Postnatal anxiety and depression are so common. In Australia, up to 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men will experience some degree of anxiety and/or depression during pregnancy or within the first year after the birth of their baby.
My experience with Peri and Postnatal Anxiety
After the birth of my daughter in 2011, I remember feeling very anxious. It started almost immediately after she was born. I remember feeling scared the moment my husband had to leave me with the baby on my own to move the car. What would I do if she cried? I passed these feelings off as just being inexperienced with my baby. I thought it would improve over time. It got worse. When my husband had to go back to work I panicked. I had no idea how I was going to cope the whole day on my own. I came to dread Monday mornings. The start of a new working week and 5 days alone with my baby. I didn’t know how I would make it to the end of the day, let along the end of the week.
When I went for my baby’s check-ups. I put on a happy facade. Everything was fine. My daughter was doing well. On the inside things felt very different. My home check up nurse tried to encourage me to join a local mothers group. The thought of going was just too much. How could I face meeting other Mums who had everything together? I felt so hopeless as a Mum I couldn’t bare having other Mums judging me. I didn’t go.
I started to stay home all day – how would I cope if she cried in public? On one of the rare occasions that I left home with her I went while she was asleep. I was late getting home and she woke up suddenly demanding a feed. I was breastfeeding but too scared to feed her in public. It was so stressful walking through the main street of my suburb with a screaming baby and not knowing what to do. I felt like everyone was staring at me thinking I was a terrible mother. One older lady said to me “you’d better get her home”. I felt like a failure.
My symptoms gradually got worse until I was experiencing full on panic attacks at night time. I would feel them coming on in the evening. I would struggle to get to sleep. My daughter and husband would be sleeping soundly and I would be experiencing feelings of dread and panic for no apparent reason. My heart would be racing, my mind would be racing, I felt like I was “out of my body” and the world was ending. It was absolute torture. I honestly felt like I was losing my mind and I couldn’t explain why.
Little did I know, but I was experiencing symptoms of Postnatal Anxiety.
Symptoms of Postnatal Depression and Anxiety
Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of baby
The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
Increased sensitivity to noise or touch
Changes in appetite: under or overeating
Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
Extreme lethargy: a feeling of being physically or emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after baby
Memory problems or loss of concentration (‘brain fog’)
Loss of confidence and lowered self esteem
Constant sadness or crying
Withdrawal from friends and family
Fear of being alone with baby
Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
Irritability and/or anger
Increased alcohol or drug use
Loss of interest in sex or previously enjoyed activities
Thoughts of death or suicide
(Source – PANDA)
Over time, my symptoms resolved by themselves, but re-occurred when I became pregnant with my second child. I spent much of my pregnancy battling anxiety and panic attacks. With the support of my family and husband, I was able to overcome this after the birth of my son. I finally was able to understand what it was that I had been experiencing – that I wasn’t crazy or a bad parent. Once I was able to identify what I had and put a name to it, it was actually quite comforting.
These days, my anxiety is really well controlled. I occasionally have a “bad week” where I feel some of my old symptoms – usually triggered by higher than normal amount of stress in my life. But mostly, I am happy to say that I have come through the other side of anxiety and am able to enjoy being a Mum to my 2 beautiful children.
Where to get help
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms I’ve mentioned, be sure to check out the PANDA website. They have a wonderful helpline that you can call to chat with someone.
Otherwise, make an appointment to see your GP.
Be determined to seek help – this is not something that you can overcome on your own. As scary as it is admitting that you need help, you will be surprised at just how common this is and just how much support there is from some of the most amazing places. By getting help, you can enjoy parenthood and be a much better parent for your child. A win for everyone.
If you ever need to talk to someone who has been through it – I’m here!