Just What IS a Diagnosis of Postpartum Anxiety and How Can It be Treated?

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Answered by: Amanda, An Expert in the Postpartum Issues Category
Every woman is warned about postpartum depression, and even postpartum psychosis. However, there is one postpartum diagnosis that is rarely discussed: postpartum anxiety. This disorder is only checked by 20% of doctors because anxiety is considered normal in new mothers, but for women suffering from this disorder it can be extremely debilitating, especially if left untreated. Common anxiety problems include panic attacks, worry, obsessions, compulsions, and post traumatic stress symptoms, and can even lead to thoughts of harm.

A diagnosis of postpartum anxiety can be very risky for both mother and child. Children born to mothers with postpartum anxiety have difficulties even at the age of fifteen. Babies can have a more difficult time adjusting to new situations. They could also develop a more "difficult" temperament. They have more behavioral and emotional problems during the preschool age.

There are ways to predict who may be diagnosed with this. If a mother has a previous diagnosis of anxiety, she could be at risk. Other factors include perfectionism, past miscarriages and those who went through high-risk pregnancies. New moms can be treated in two ways: CBT therapy and possibly medication.

CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that believes if you can change how you think and act, you can change your mood. CBT therapy has been proven to be immensely helpful to patients. Another route that can be used in conjunction with therapy is medication. Usually this consists of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. There are pros and cons to both.

The major pro with CBT therapy is that there is less of a chance of a relapse with your symptoms than if you just took medications. The con is that it is a time intensive therapy, and that needs to be taken into consideration. The pro of medications is that they are an effective form of treatment for your immediate symptoms, but you will probably be required to stop breastfeeding (if you are doing so) and there is the possibility of becoming addicted to the anti-anxiety medication. As always, you should talk about the risk and benefits with your doctor. When talking to your obstetrician or psychiatrist, take into account the severity of your anxiety, availability of various treatments, time constraints, and your risk tolerance.

You can recover from a diagnosis of postpartum anxiety, but it will take time. However, if you start developing symptoms so extreme that you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby you should seek help immediately. It is better to seek help if you feel you even have the possibility of an unusual amount of anxiety than to suffer needlessly.

In a perfect world, all mothers would be screened for this diagnosis as they are for postpartum depression (which can occur at the same time as postpartum anxiety). Please bring up your symptoms to your OB or psychiatrist if you feel abnormal. It can make all the difference in having a happy beginning to new motherhood. Don't suffer in silence.

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