Postpartum Anxiety & Becoming a New Mom with Sarah Swenson



Although you typically hear lots about postpartum depression, many women also struggle with postpartum anxiety. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, it’s estimated that at least one in five women has postpartum anxiety. Many of the symptoms of postpartum anxiety and depression overlap, but not all mothers suffering from anxiety are depressed. It’s so important to understand postpartum anxiety, and to be aware of what it can look like, so that women can get the treatment they need if they find themselves struggling with postpartum anxiety.

In this episode, my former colleague and friend, Sarah Swenson joins me to discuss postpartum anxiety and becoming a new mom. Sarah is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked with women through varying stages of their life for over 20 years. She has an incredible amount of knowledge when it comes to perinatal and postnatal care, and Sarah also shares her experience with postpartum anxiety, along with lots of amazing insights, knowledge, and tips.

Sarah and I also chat lots about our own experiences in becoming moms, and we share some of the challenges we have faced along the way and how we’ve moved through them. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a mom, are a mom, are struggling with postpartum anxiety, are worried about potentially struggling with postpartum anxiety, or are worried about becoming a mom, this episode is for you!

In this episode, we dive into:

  • What postpartum is and can look like

  • Potential risk factors of postpartum anxiety

  • Signs of postpartum anxiety

  • Expectations surrounding being a new mom

  • Sarah’s experience with postpartum anxiety

  • What being a new mom actually looks like, and how it’s okay to not have it all figured out!

  • Processing the grief of who you used to be

  • How postpartum can show up during pregnancy and even months after giving birth

  • Whether or not you’ll experience postpartum anxiety if you experienced it in previous pregnancies

  • Tips for if you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety

  • Tips for if you’re worried about experiencing postpartum anxiety

  • Helpful resources

WHAT IS POSTPARTUM ANXIETY?

Sarah explains that postpartum anxiety is part of a group of emotional experiences that a woman can have during pregnancy and after birth. It can include crying, feelings of not wanting to get out of bed, dread, anticipation, and a constant feeling that something bad is about to happen. It can also include feelings of not being able to let your baby out of your sight, having difficulty sleeping because you’re constantly checking on your baby, and feeling like a failure. These are just some of the signs of postpartum anxiety, but it is more nuanced than this.

WHAT ARE SOME POTENTIAL RISK FACTORS OF POSTPARTUM ANXIETY?

Before you read these risk factors, it’s really important to note that not everyone who struggles with anxiety will have an exacerbation of anxiety after they have a baby. For example, I struggled for 15 years with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, however I didn’t struggle with postpartum anxiety.

Some potential risk factors are:

  • Having a prior diagnosis of postpartum anxiety

  • Major changes during pregnancy or soon after birth, like changes in a job, moving to a different home, any significant losses, or fertility struggles

  • Women who are really sensitive to hormonal changes (women who have struggled with hormonal shifts around their menstrual cycle, or with taking contraception)

WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS OF POSTPARTUM ANXIETY?

  • You may find yourself in an alert state, which can look like irritability, anger, or agitation

  • A constant feeling of being overwhelmed.

  • You may experience rage and take it out on those around you, which is out of character for you.

  • You may be hypervigilant about your baby’s safety and always have to be the one to care for your baby.

If you recognize yourself experiencing any signs of postpartum anxiety, one of the most important things is to talk about how you’re feeling and share what you’re experiencing so that you can get support.

SARAH’S EXPERIENCE WITH POSTPARTUM ANXIETY

Before Sarah gave birth to her daughter, she had YEARS of experience in teaching other women how to care for themselves and their baby, but Sarah said all of that knowledge went out the window when she had her daughter. She remembers feeling really caught off guard after leaving the hospital after having her daughter and thinking… I can’t believe they think I’m going to keep this baby alive. I can’t believe they’re letting me leave with her. Sarah shares that the reality is that everything changes, and your identity changes overnight. You’re not just meeting this new person who's your baby, you’re meeting this new person as yourself as a mother.

Sarah shares that she was a bundle of anxiety coming home from the hospital. She couldn’t sleep and she struggled a lot with breastfeeding. Her daughter also had hip dysplasia from a breech delivery, and so her daughter had to be put into a brace which made things even more stressful. She shared that she also couldn’t let her daughter out of her sight and was often filled with worry.

She shares that she had been putting on a face and saying that everything was okay, but she remembers finally saying… I don’t feel okay. And she said that this was the first step, to acknowledge and say… This doesn’t feel okay. I don’t feel like myself. Sarah shares that this helped to set her on the path to feeling better.

PROCESSING THE GRIEF OF WHO YOU USED TO BE

People often don’t talk about the grief that comes with any change, whether it’s a positive change or a struggle. Sarah says, “There’s something you gain and then there’s something you lose. There’s often grief around losing the person you were when you were independent and all of your decisions didn’t get affected by thoughts of your child or your family.” Sarah talks about how the grief needs to be acknowledged and honored.

Shannon shares a little bit of her personal experience with processing the grief she felt when becoming a new mom and losing pieces of her old identity.

Sarah shares that there’s also the perspective of… What are the parts of me that I learned about that I wouldn’t have learned about if I hadn't had a baby? And that stuff can be really amazing! Of course, motherhood can change you in many amazing ways. And some stages will be really hard, but with each stage of parenthood comes new opportunities to learn, grow, and create amazing experiences and memories.

TIPS FOR IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH POSTPARTUM ANXIETY

Sarah shares a line that she really likes and it’s: Everyone is going to hold the baby, but who is going to hold the mom? And it’s so true, right? Everyone comes to the house and wants to hold the baby, but what about the mom? There’s an acronym that Sarah really likes and it’s called NESTS, and it’s used to help support mom, which in turn helps to support the baby.

N = Nutrition. Making sure that you’re eating and eating nutritious foods.

E = Exercise. And this doesn’t mean working out to get back to your pre-pregnancy body. This means taking short walks, dancing around with your baby, or stretching.

S = Sleep and rest. Making sure you’re getting as much sleep and rest as possible.

T = Time for yourself. Getting some space and time for yourself to breathe.

S = Support. Asking for, and getting the support you need.

  • Therapy can be incredibly helpful if you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety. Some therapies that are helpful: Interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Medication can be helpful for some women, especially if you’ve been on medication in the past for anxiety and it’s been helpful. It’s important to work with a healthcare provider so that you can be sure that medication is a healthy option for you and your baby (if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding).

TIPS FOR IF YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT EXPERIENCING POSTPARTUM ANXIETY

If you aren’t pregnant, nobody can obviously predict what your experience is going to look like when you do get pregnant and have a baby. Nobody can predict whether or not you’ll struggle with postpartum anxiety, however there are always healthy choices that you can make that can reduce your risk for experiencing postpartum anxiety.

If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant:

  • Make sure you have support around you.

  • Create as much stability in your life as you can.

  • Be compassionate with yourself and be willing to make mistakes.

IN THIS EPISODE, WE ALSO DIVE INTO:

  • How postpartum can show up during pregnancy and even months after giving birth

  • Whether or not you’ll experience postpartum anxiety if you experienced it in previous pregnancies

SOME HELPFUL RESOURCES:

MAKE SURE TO TUNE IN & LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE TO CAPTURE ALL THE GOODNESS!

Struggling with driving anxiety? Want to experience peace and freedom behind the wheel? (yes, it's possible!)

Join me in my FREE, live class and learn what overcoming driving anxiety actually looks like - & get lots of practical tips!
*replay is available if you can't join live.