Holly dealt with postpartum anxiety after her first baby was born.
Postpartum Anxiety Triggers
Many of us experience anxiety over the same things—school exams, medical tests, financial stress—and the same goes for new mom anxieties, which are often triggered by:
- Going back to work
- Pediatric appointments
- Being in the NICU
- A changing relationship with your partner
- Lack of sleep
- When your baby cries
- Your first period after baby
Babies are a blessing; everyone tells you that. And it's true. But something else that's true, that many people don't remind you of constantly, is that babies can trigger or worsen anxiety in their postpartum mothers.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, something surprising came to light—experiencing anxiety after having a baby might just be more common than postpartum depression, yet it gets little to no fanfare during postpartum doctor's appointments.
Honestly, when you take a minute, it makes a lot of sense. Anxiety can be brought on by lack of sleep, which is something all new moms experience (that woman on your Instagram claiming her baby sleeps a solid eight hours a night is full of it). Pile on top of that tons of shifting hormones, barely enough time to feed yourself, and a brand new list of baby-related to-dos, and it should come as no surprise to any mom that she's suddenly battling anxiety and panic attacks.
Yet it does. I've dealt with anxiety my entire life, but, through healthy habits, I had always been able to keep it mostly at bay until after I became a mom, when it just seemed to explode. So much of handling anxiety involves "self-care," but apart from a shower once every few days, most new moms don't partake in it.
So what's an overtired, underfed new mom with raging anxiety to do? Take a deep breath, know that you're not the only one to have ever experienced this, and read on for tips on managing anxiety after baby.
Techniques and Tools for Handling Postpartum Anxiety
- Try a stress reducing supplement
- Talk to a therapist
- Talk to your mom friends
- Utilize aromatherapy
- Use grounding techniques
1. Try a Stress Supplement
I don't get real hoity toity with the supplements; it's not in my budget, and because I do have an anxiety disorder (aside from postpartum issues) that doesn't react well to herbal teas, supplements are not always my friend. I did find that these Goodbye Stress Gummies by Olly do help me immensely, and they can just be picked up from Target or Amazon in a pinch.
Tips for Using Stress Gummies
- Talk to your doctor before taking these to make sure they won't interact with anything you're on or negatively impact your postpartum healing.
- If you're breastfeeding, check with your baby's pediatrician to make sure that the ingredients are safe for breastfeeding. To be clear, I didn't take these while breastfeeding.
- I started with the small bottle just to see how I would react, but now that I know they work with zero side effects, I feel comfortable investing in the big jar when I can.
- The instructions say to take two at a time each day, but I actually find that just taking one and then seeing how I feel after an hour (and taking one more if I need it) works better because they can make me feel sleepy. It's not bad; it's just that sometimes they calm me down to the point when I feel unproductive!
- You don't have to take these every day if you want to make them stretch. I take them before high-stress events or outings (that's different for each mom!). In just doing that, I notice a decrease in anxiety, since it's not just building and building in me.
2. Talk to a Therapist
I invested some time and money into talk therapy. I'd always recommend therapy short-term when anxiety starts to get the best of you. Therapists work like a trail guide on your anxiety path. In my experience, anxiety isn't something that ever goes away completely but there's times that feel more uphill than others, you know? They can give you exercises and techniques to use when you're feeling really bad.
How to Get the Most From Therapy
- Find a therapist who is similar to you. I'm saying this because, for a while, I was seeing a therapist who didn't have kids, who had never had children. She was great at her job but in the end she was limited on how she could help me with my anxiety because so much of it revolved around my role as a mother.
- Write down your goals for therapy so you don't get sidetracked. Is it to be able to head back into the grocery store with your baby without a panic attack? Is it to stress less about meal planning now that you have a baby in arms?
- Don't expect for therapy to return you to the woman you were before. You're not, you're a mom now (or a mom to more children than you were before). Your life is different now.
3. Talk to Your Mom Friends
As grateful as I am for the times I've been able to utilize therapy, nothing brings me more comfort from my mom anxiety than talking to other mothers. Talking to my own mother, to my friends with older kids and my friends who are new mothers gives me a well rounded perspective and helps me to see that I'm absolutely not alone in my feelings of inadequacy and exhaustion. I'm also not the only one with a growing pile of clean laundry on the couch or a sense of dread when I have to take my baby to the pediatrician.
How to Make Healthy Connections With Other Moms
- Avoid forums. If you think connecting with moms on BabyCenter, WhatToExpect, Reddit or anywhere else new moms congregate is a good idea, think again. Conversations there quickly take a turn for the worst and dialogue can become incredibly toxic. I think it's just easier to be mean in places where people don't truly know who you are.
- Connect with your friends who are also mothers on social media and through text. It's easier to be real and kind to each other in these places where you're all very aware of who you're speaking to.
- Make a weekly FaceTime date with one of your friends to catch up and see how exhausted the other one looks.
- Try a social app like Marco Polo. It allows you to have a conversation with your friends on your own time. Think of it like text messaging but with videos instead. My friends and I use this, especially during the cold weather months when we're stuck inside and need a break from the doldrums of handing out sippie cups and crackers. Seeing how imperfect and exhausted your friends look will help you to accept your new reality (and guess what? This bananas newborn chaos doesn't last forever...)
4. Utilize Aromatherapy
I know there's a lot of controversy over who has the best oils, but in the end I just need something that calms me and brings me back to my center. I can't afford to spend $30 on a little bottle of oil, because I go through this stuff quickly. I like Nature's Truth oils because you can just run into Target or order them off from Amazon and they have nice blends like this "Peace" blend that actually does bring me peace.
I take a whiff because I'm about to head into a doctor's appointment with my kiddo and it truly helps. I also always carry a bottle of straight lavender oil with me and use Plant Therapy's brand or Thrive Market's brand (you need a membership to get that one though).
Using Aromatherapy as a Form of Meditation
I'm not putting meditation or other somewhat time consuming de-stressors like exercise, a long warm bath or a night out without your baby on this list because those things aren't always accessible to brand new moms. If they are to you, awesome, do them. But they take time and being interrupted from them can almost be more anxiety inducing than just not doing them at all.
However, aromatherapy works really quickly - you just close your eyes, inhale and then exhale. Here's some ways to sneak it into your everyday routine:
- Keep a roller of a relaxing essential oil blend near wherever you sit with your baby during feedings. While baby eats away you can tab a bit onto each temple and ahhh.
- Tip a few drops of lavender oil into your shower. You may only get two minutes in there but it will be two blissful minutes.
- Make sure to keep a roller or bottle of your favorite blends in your diaper bag, that way you have it on the go so you can take thirty second before you exit the car to center yourself.
5. Use Grounding Techniques
I've modified the 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique to just be a 1-1-1-1-1 exercise, because I usually need to do it when I'm in a hurry.
This is how I do it:
- Name one thing I can see
- Name one thing I can feel/touch
- Name one thing I can taste
- Name one thing I can hear
- Name one thing I can smell
The order of the senses you take note of doesn't really matter, what matters is that you're refocusing your mind onto things other than the anxious thoughts swirling "I'm going to be late! I forgot to pack an extra diaper!"
New Mom Nekole Talks Anxiety and Self-Care
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Holly Howard