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What Is Postpartum Anxiety?

What You Need to Know About Postpartum Anxiety and How to Treat It

If you're a new mother, chances are you're feeling a little scared, stressed out, and anxious (in addition to being very, very tired). Those first few postpartum weeks are daunting for everyone, but there is a difference between those normal, new mom feelings and dealing with postpartum anxiety.

While we've all heard of postpartum depression and the many celebrities who have been open about their struggles with it — Chrissy Teigen, Brooke Shields, and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few — a recent study concludes that postpartum anxiety affects a larger percentage of new moms than you might realize.

Dr. Jennifer Gentile, PsyD., a psychologist who treats patients virtually via telehealth app LiveHealth Online, spoke to POPSUGAR about postpartum emotional challenges, which affect over 60 percent of new moms. "There is not a formal diagnosis for postpartum anxiety, but there is definitely anxiety that occurs in the postpartum period," Dr. Gentile said. "On average, 16 percent of new moms experience anxiety during the postpartum period, which is a particularly challenging time for mothers who are used to having control over their lives. Your life gets turned upside down."

If you feel like you could be suffering from postpartum anxiety, here is some key information to figure out your next steps.

What Are the Signs?

It's normal for a mom to stress a little. We have a tiny creature to keep alive, after all. But when does it become too much? Dr. Gentile said you should take notice when "a new mom expresses concern about things that, from an outsider's perspective, don't seem like a big deal. For example, worrying that a medication prescribed by your pediatrician might give your child cancer — fears or worries that are out of bounds," she explained.

Who Is at a Higher Risk?

Anyone is at risk, but women with general anxiety, depression, or OCD are at a higher risk. "It can run in families from a genetic standpoint and a learning style component," Dr. Gentile said. "If you grew up in a family that didn't cope well with stressful situations, then you are more prone to catastrophize a situation."

When Should You Seek Help?

Ask for help when it's interfering with your ability to take care of your baby or affecting your ability to take on daily tasks or even carry on a relationship with your significant other. "Think about seeking help when it's causing some sort of functional impairment," Dr. Gentile said, adding it can even lead to PPD or result in the development of OCD if it goes untreated.

What Treatment Methods Are Available?

Dr. Gentile strongly recommends cognitive behavioral therapy. "The most evidence-based treatment for anxiety in any population is cognitive behavioral therapy," she said. "You want to work with the mom and her attachment to her baby. Once she feels more secure in her attachment, she's likely to calm down a bit."

If therapy is not quite cutting it, medication might be an option, even for nursing mothers. "There are some choices for anxiety medications for a nursing mother," Dr. Gentile explained, but she strongly recommends speaking to your own doctor to figure out what works best for you.

How Long Does It Last?

Dr. Gentile said you can typically feel relief in four to six weeks. "Part of that is the mom learning the new way of being and gaining the skills to take on this new responsibility," she said. "That also is the amount of time that it takes for the hormones to settle out." She also suggests steering clear of caffeine and complex carbohydrates, which can amp up an already anxious postpartum mommy.

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