Study finds that postpartum anxiety is more common than depression

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that postpartum anxiety is more common than previously thought. In fact, it’s almost three times as common as postpartum depression. According to CBC News, the research team found that about 17% of new moms suffer from postpartum anxiety, compared to about 5% who suffer from postpartum depression.

Pretty surprising, huh? Part of the reason why this research is so groundbreaking is that most of us are familiar with the phenomenon of postpartum depression, but postpartum anxiety is seen as more of an anomaly, which means that mothers may not seek help for it.

As a lifelong anxiety sufferer myself — and one whose anxiety was intensified after my first baby was born — I found this research intriguing, and incredibly important. If these numbers are accurate, it’s imperative that we get the word out there so that mothers who are suffering the ugly beast of postpartum anxiety will be diagnosed and treated.

As lead researcher Dr. Nicole Fairbrother explains in an interview with On the Coast, “Pregnant women and postpartum women who are suffering from an anxiety disorder may not be getting the screening or assessment or treatment that they need because we aren’t thinking to ask about these kinds of concerns because we’re so focused on depression.”

This was certainly the case for me. After my first son was born, I remember having obsessive thoughts that spun through my mind. I worried about my baby’s safety. I worried about mine. I imagined what would happened if I died. I was breastfeeding him and I was terrified about how he would eat if something happened to me. I was scared to sleep because I had to make sure he was breathing at all times. It took a very long time before I felt comfortable even leaving the room he was in.

My symptoms were only this intense for the first few weeks, and then seemed to pass. Still, some of the extreme thoughts and worries I had starting in those first weeks did not go away. But I didn’t think to seek treatment because I had only really heard of postpartum depression, and I thought, Well, I must be fine because I’m not depressed.

In its coverage, CBC News described the case of a mother that Dr. Fairbrother was working with in her clinical practice. The mother, who previously had thoughts of harming her baby, had been in treatment for postpartum depression for two years. As CBC News reports, once this mom was treated for postpartum anxiety, results were evident within eight weeks.

This case struck a nerve for me. When my son was 2 years old, my anxiety returned; but this time with a terror I had never experienced before. I had just experienced a miscarriage, and an emergency hospitalization of my son (it was for something minor, but it rattled my nerves tremendously). All of the anxiety I’d had relating to motherhood over the past two years had reached a crescendo, and my thoughts and feelings were out of control.

I was experiencing daily panic attacks, nausea, and racing thoughts. I finally began to seek treatment. Thankfully, a few months of therapy did the trick for me. But I can’t help but wonder if I could have avoided such an awful few months had I only known to seek treatments for my motherhood-related anxiety in those early postpartum months.

Dr. Fairbrother calls for better screening postpartum anxiety in new mothers. As she puts it, “If we’re not asking about anxiety, we may not know.”

I believe that this is absolutely the case. I hope that more medical providers and postpartum caregivers learn to look for signs of postpartum anxiety in new mothers. I’m beyond grateful that the stigma of PPD is slowly being removed and that more mothers are seeking treatment for it, but clearly the same thing needs to happen with postpartum anxiety.

Mothers who are suffering with postpartum anxiety should know that it is common and treatable. They need to know that they have every right to feel better — and most of all, that they are not alone.


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