Postpartum Panic Attacks

Panic and Anxiety After Baby

For many new mothers, having a baby is an exciting and joyful experience. However, despite the happiness that a new baby can bring, there is also a lot of stress associated with being a new mom. Sleepless nights, fatigue, and added responsibilities can make the journey into new motherhood all the more stressful.

New mothers should expect to feel some degree of stress. However, when stress becomes unmanageable or if you are unaware of what is causing your feelings of fear, nervousness, and worry, it may be a sign that you are experiencing postpartum anxiety.

Stress and anxiety often overlap, but there are some key differences. Stress can often be relieved through getting some rest or having someone help you care for your new baby. Whereas anxiety lingers, making you feel as though something is wrong, even though everything is seemingly okay.

Postpartum Depression Versus Postpartum Anxiety

You may be familiar with postpartum depression, which symptoms go beyond feeling “blue” or “moody” after childbirth to a more long-lasting depression.  Women suffering from postpartum depression may have a sense of being overwhelmed with feelings of sadness. Other common symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Changes in appetite, which can be seen in weight loss or gain
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Repeated thoughts of death or suicide
  • Fears of being unable to care for the new baby

Postpartum anxiety, on the other hand, is often characterized by worry along with a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms. Postpartum anxiety may involve:

  • Intense fears
  • Irritability and anger
  • Constant and excessive worry
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Physical aches and pains

    If experiencing postpartum anxiety, you may continually worry about the safety and wellbeing of your child beyond what would be expected as a new mother. Anxiety can also be experienced through panic attacks, which typically consist of a combination of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.

    Recognizing Panic Attacks

    According to the DSM-V, the manual used by mental health professionals for diagnostic purposes, panic attacks are experienced through 4 or more of the following symptoms:

    Panic attacks typically reach their highest intensity within 10 minutes before gradually subsiding. Recurrent and unexpected panic attacks are associated with panic disorder. Panic attacks can also co-occur with other mood and anxiety disorders.

    Fears connected with having panic attacks in certain places and situations are often related to the agoraphobia. This phobia involves feeling afraid of having a panic attack where it could cause embarrassment, such as in a crowded place or it would be difficult to escape from, such as on a bus or airplane.

    Seeking Professional Help

    Whether you suspect you are suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety or are just having a difficult time adjusting to new motherhood, you should never be ashamed to seek professional help. Your doctor or mental health specialist will be able to help you manage your symptoms and back to feeling more like yourself.

    Once you have been properly diagnosed with postpartum depression or anxiety, your doctor will want to get you started on a treatment plan. This plan will include the steps that will need to be taken to help you through recovery. Treatment options may include medications and/or psychotherapy.

    Be certain that your prescribing doctor is aware as to whether or not you are nursing.

    If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, seek immediate help by calling 911 or a suicide prevention hotline. If you are in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).


    American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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