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Understanding Peripartum Anxiety: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatment

Caring for the mother is akin to caring for the child.

Front view mother with baby at home
Image by freepik.

What is Peripartum Anxiety?

Does worry that your child may stop breathing keep you going back in to the nursery to feel their breath? Does worry that something bad might happen to your precious baby keep you from letting them out of your arms? Does fear that others may not do things the right way prevent you from accepting help so you can rest?

While it's natural to worry about the new life you have brought home, 1 in 5 birthing mothers may experience fearful thoughts that are all-consuming and nearly constant. Their fears may be related to their new role as a parent or to their child's wellbeing. Some may even develop postpartum OCD or panic disorder. Peripartum anxiety is not a character flaw or a weakness.

What are symptoms of Peripartum Anxiety?

This table might help you differentiate "baby blues" from peripartum anxiety.

Baby Blues
Peripartum Anxiety

Affects most parents.

Affects an estimated 20% of parents.

Symptoms typically start 2-35 days after delivery. May persist for up to 2 weeks.

Symptoms may develop during pregnancy, immediately after delivery, or some months later. May persist for 1 year after delivery.

Symptoms may include: Mood swings; Worry thoughts that feel difficult to ignore; Sadness; Irritability; Feeling overwhelmed; Crying; Decreased concentration; Appetite changes; Trouble sleeping.

Symptoms may include: Inability to relax or keep calm; Heart palpitations; Shortness of breath; Racing thoughts, especially about worse-case scenarios; Obsessing over irrational fears or things that are unlikely to happen; Avoiding certain activities, people or places; Being overly cautious about situations that aren't dangerous; Checking things over and over again.

Recognizing Peripartum Anxiety in the non-birthing parent

Fathers and non-biological parents may experience peripartum anxiety, too. It can have the same negative effect on partner relationships and child development as peripartum anxiety in mothers can. Either parent experiencing peripartum anxiety may benefit from treatment and support.

How to support a friend with Peripartum Anxiety

Your friend or family member may not admit that they are overwhelmed or experiencing intrusive thoughts. If you suspect that they are developing peripartum anxiety, offer a  hand with household chores or other errands, give them grace when they seem out of sorts, and gently encourage them to seek medical attention. Discomfort is inevitable, but suffering does not have to be.

Treatment for Peripartum Anxiety

Research about the effects of peripartum anxiety on child development is lacking. However, we know that untreated psychiatric illness in a parent adversely affects the child's risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems down the line.

Don't hesitate to seek treatment for peripartum anxiety. Treatment can help you manage and overcome your peripartum anxiety symptoms. Your healthcare team can help you decide which one or combination of treatment options would best meet your needs between talk therapy, support groups, and medications. Your healthcare team can also help your family understand the best ways to support you during this vulnerable and important stage in your life.


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