Postpartum Anxiety & the New Mom
Sleepless nights, sore nipples and blowouts are a few things expectant first time moms can count on as they enter into motherhood. We’ve all heard the old adages and sayings from experienced moms on what to expect during this new season of life. But what happens when as a new mom you feel like your experience is veering so far of course that you’re sure you are doing it wrong? Above and beyond the regular new mom exhaustion your agitation and anxiety slowly begin to creep higher and begin to set the new normal in your brain.
This is how my entrance into the world of motherhood began. A great pregnancy and almost picturesque delivery gave way to intense breastfeeding woes, debilitating anxiety and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Postpartum depression is nothing new in the world of motherhood. We’ve heard and read about the warning signs and treatment. Her sister, postpartum anxiety, can be much sneakier and harder to address for new and first time moms. How do I know this isn’t the run of the mill new mom exhaustion and not knowing what I’m doing? Does everyone feel this way and just no one talks about it? Below are a few of the symptoms I experienced the first year postpartum.
Signs and Symptoms I experienced as a New Mom
- One of the first signs I experienced as a new mom was the crippling anxiety associated with breastfeeding issues. For whatever reason (perhaps being born three weeks early), my son would not latch. Immediately after delivery the nurses tried to help to no avail. After being transferred to a recovery room, I called upon endless lactation consultants, nurses and friends to try and help but nothing seemed to work. Nurses suggested utilizing a supplemental nursing system and supplementing with formula as the latch issues continued to linger. This heightened my anxiety that my body wasn’t even capable of doing the most basic act of motherhood. Upon being discharged my anxiety over feeding continued to escalate. The SNS wasn’t always easy to work and I felt like I could never know if he was truly getting enough to eat. Attempting to get him to latch would without a doubt end up with us both in tears and I usually ended up pumping and bottle feeding or supplementing with formula as he wouldn’t stay latched longer than a few minutes.
- At twelve weeks postpartum I went back to work full time. I worked a full time job from home. This might sound like a dream; however, my job was a very traditional office job done from home so my son started daycare. Cue the isolation factor of my anxiety. While I had gone back to work I still was not getting any real adult interaction. Chatting with coworkers over the phone was just not the same. Isolation breeds a lot of things and for my already heightened anxiety this was not good. I never got used to taking my son out to playdates or even just going out in public with him. I had multiple anxiety attacks sitting in grocery store parking lots just thinking about taking him in the store. I realize this probably sounds silly but the isolation and lack of socialization on top of all the new mom woes really got to my head.
- In addition to my breastfeeding and isolation woes, I also began to have trouble sleeping. I dreaded nighttime. And I don’t mean in the usual oh this night is going to be long because he’s already fussy way. I mean seriously dread it. I would feel a physical shift in my mood as the day progressed. As the afternoon came and went, I could feel a heaviness set in in the pit of my stomach. I absolutely dreaded the isolation in the middle of the night of having to get this baby to try and latch and get sufficient feeding. The constant thoughts running through my head wouldn’t let me fall asleep and surely not after a struggle 1am breastfeeding session where I ended up in tears.
- Eventually, I began to develop some quite unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the escalating anxiety. I had always been one to enjoy working out, cooking and eating (somewhat) healthy pre kid. However, I had the hardest time bouncing back to this postpartum. Once I threw in the towel on breastfeeding for good at 6 months, I started drinking much more. At the end of a long work day, it seemed to be the only thing to quiet my mind and actually let me relax. I’m sure you know where this slippery slope is going. Drinking more led to unhealthy eating habits,weight gain and I was constantly exhausted. Even though the wine would quiet my mind at night, I still was not truly relaxing or enjoying any of the things I used to. The wine quickly became my go to for any emotion I didn’t want to properly deal with: anxiety, loneliness, sadness; que the bottle of wine.
How I learned to Cope with My Postpartum Anxiety
It took a good while for me to actually recognize and address my anxiety issues postpartum. In all honesty, I got laid off when my son was about 14 months old and that’s when things really started to change for me. I began to really examine and recognize how uptight and not happy I had become. Becoming a stay-at-home-mom allowed me to address my issues of isolation and unhealthy coping mechanisms in a way I had never done before. I’ve narrowed it down to five things I did that really helped change the course of this journey for me.
5 Tips on Addressing Postpartum Anxiety
- Ask for and Accept Help
I did have family that came to stay with me after the birth of my son; however, after all the dust had settled and we were in our routine, I never really sought out help from people close to me when I was feeling overwhelmed. When I couldn’t go to the grocery store or shopping with my son due to anxiety, I never asked for help. I never really let anyone in to the madness that was going on inside of my head. The weekend before I went back to work I had a complete meltdown to my husband about my anxiety. Which he was oblivious to and didn’t really know how to help with either. Which is where the therapy came in.
- Build a support system
This is so key and probably the most important one of all. In my case, I was living in a town with no good friends or family close by. It’s hard to have that village everyone talks about when you’re not in your hometown or with high school friends anymore. But you have to work at building it. Yes it’s hard, yes it sucks, but you have to try. I sought out the help of a therapist, who told me about a monthly Mom Talk group she ran. This Mom Talk group was honestly one of my saving graces. We would meet once a month to talk all things motherhood. It was a small group and we cried, laughed and go to know each other well. Each woman had such a different set of circumstances and issues that it really made me realize every mom has their own skeletons in the closet to tackle. It’s hard work. It takes effort. I also started going to individual therapy sessions which allowed me to start unpacking my feelings of anxiety and concrete ways of navigating through those situations where I felt overly anxious.
- Make Time for Self Care
Hear me out that I do not mean self care like a bubble bath or mani/pedi. I mean true self care that feeds your soul. Sure getting an hour away for a pedi is nice but it’s not going to truly make you joyful. If you loved running/crafting/writing/reading/book club/painting before this baby came along really make an effort to find time for that. Make sure your significant other knows you need this time. It will help you reconnect with yourself again instead of being overran with all the new mom responsibilities. In my case I slowly started to get back into working out when I joined a gym with childcare and started spin class. I also got back into reading which let me unwind at night and helped me fall asleep easier. In all honesty it’s probably taken me a good two years to fully realize I need hobbies and interests for me to keep me sane. Try and connect with what really feeds your soul, this is your self care.
- Work on Building Healthy Coping Mechanisms
My individual therapy sessions helped me really unpack my issues with why I was feeling the need to drink so much and not deal with my feelings. It was almost as if I had just given up on addressing any of them and I didn’t realize how horribly this was affecting my mental health. Therapy helped me not only with grounding techniques when I was feeling anxious but also helped me explore the feelings I was avoiding for so long. Let me tell you nothing feels better than a good therapy cry session and I think it should be a requirement for everyone. Find a good therapist or support group you feel comfortable with, it will help you cope with the daily minutia of motherhood but also begin to build that village (or help with confidence to build that village) we all desperately crave.
- Don’t Feel Shame
I think postpartum anxiety is something most new mothers deal with on some level. After all, of course we will experience some anxiety with anything new we try, right? But if we never have these new experiences then we’ll never grow out of our comfort zones or make progress into becoming better people. We all know the facade of social media and I guarantee every mom has their battles. We are all trying our best, however that may look.
While the foray into motherhood comes with many expectations there will no doubt be shortcomings and pitfalls along the way. It’s inevitable in the world of newborns but the important thing to remember is you are not alone. I’m grateful to have come out on the other side and hopeful my second postpartum experience will be much different than my first.
Building and accepting that new identity shift can be hard as a new mom, but it doesn’t have to be! When you start to feel those familiar (or unfamiliar) feelings you’re doing it all wrong, stop! Reach out to those around you, seek out ways to cope and relax with your new family and never be ashamed to need to work on you. We all deserve to be happy, healthy moms!
Hi, I’m Catherine, the mom behind the blog wonderfullywright.com. A stay-at home-mom to one boy with a baby girl on the way! When I’m not blogging you can find me meeting the incessant demands of my two-year-old, at spin class or playing with my two fur babies. Follow along as I blog about modern day motherhood and finding myself amongst the madness.