What are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety? MH finds out.
WORDS ANNA FERNANDEZ
If you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety, you’ll be checking on your baby incessantly and avoiding any potentially dangerous tasks like handling knives and climbing the stairs. From questioning your ability to be a mother, to worrying about the possibility of your baby suffocating when you happen to be taking a nap, your thoughts will consume you and you’ll find yourself triple checking if she is still breathing when she sleeps.
This can become so extreme that it ultimately affects your ability to connect with your child. Dr Cornelia Chee, director and senior consultant of the Women's Emotional Health Service at the National University Hospital says, “The bonding between a mother and her baby can also be impaired if the mother is over-focused on her baby’s routines and safety. Some mothers can be so phobic that they avoid the baby altogether.”
Mums who struggle with postpartum insomnia often feel on edge.
They are anxiously attentive to their babies, afraid that if they fall asleep, they won’t hear their
little one’s cry. And when these mums finally do fall asleep, they’re often disturbed by the
slightest of sounds or even phantom sounds which are merely a figment of their imagination.
According to Dr Chee, postpartum anxiety can also result in the inability to sleep even when your baby sleeps, and this may lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which in turn results in irritability, difficulties with memory and concentration, greater emotionality, and impaired day to day functioning. She says, “Low levels of anxiety are considered normal and even useful. But if the symptoms are of a high intensity and are causing moderately severe distress to oneself or others, or have persisted past the first few weeks, it may be good to seek professional help for an assessment and treatment.”
How Can You Cope?
Stay away from the Internet
If you’re worried about something, it’s pretty tempting to go on the Internet and read all about it, only to find your anxieties intensified as your concerns, real or perceived, are validated.
The first step to overcoming your anxiety is to avoid turning to Google to
quell your fears because it’ll only have the opposite effect.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
Instead, you can try mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which is designed to help people who suffer recurring bouts of depression and chronic unhappiness. It combines the tenets of cognitive therapy with meditative practices and the cultivation of mindfulness, which helps people learn how to accept their thoughts for what they are and turn their attention elsewhere. Generally, cognitive behavioural therapy allows patients to be involved in the problem-solving process and teaches them how to challenge generalised thoughts and adjust their reactions.
Seek out support
Confiding with your peers will make you realise that there are others who are just as concerned about the well-being of their kids, albeit in different ways. Interacting with fellow mothers can also allow you to recognise when you’re not having an average experience and encourage you to seek help.
Having a good support system is also key. Dr Chee advises, “Sleep is important, as is attention to good nutrition. Exercise is also beneficial, so if your obstetrician gives the go-ahead, you can resume exercising. Mums can also try to remind themselves that they do not have to be solely responsible for their baby’s welfare and safety, and to allow others to help where possible.”
Regardless of the severity of your anxiety, it's better to seek help sooner rather than later. Only by taking care of yourself will you be able to give your baby the best care possible.