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Can Postpartum Anxiety Become General Anxiety? Experts Explain

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Adjusting to life with a newborn — whether you're a first-time mom or a seasoned vet — is overwhelming. The onslaught of hormonal changes and emotions can lead to crippling anxiety post-birth, but what about after the postpartum period? Can postpartum anxiety become general anxiety? It makes sense to wonder about just how deeply you're affected by all these changes.

The answer is simple: "Postpartum anxiety can develop into generalized anxiety, particularly if left untreated," reproductive and maternal mental health expert Kerri-Anne Brown tells Romper.

Some common symptoms that experts say could point to postpartum anxiety include excessive worry, racing thoughts, sleep disruptions, irritability (which can sometimes come out as anger or impatience), and appetite changes. Brown also explains that mothers are at a higher risk for developing anxiety during the postpartum period if they have a personal or family history of anxiety.

"Some other physical symptoms can be heaviness in the chest, shallow breathing, heart palpitations, sweating, and panic attacks," Shivonne Odom, a perinatal mental health therapist that specializes in Black maternal mental health counseling tells Romper. "It sometimes can be accompanied by intrusive thoughts like, 'What if I drop my baby?'" Odom tells Romper that postpartum anxiety can present at any point during the perinatal period, up to one year after delivery, and that, if left untreated, can lead to a general anxiety diagnosis outside of the perinatal period, and a shorter duration of breastfeeding for nursing moms.

Maternal mental health specialist Laura Jordan tells Romper that it isn't just postpartum anxiety that can morph into a general diagnosis if left untreated. "This can happen with any of the perinatal mood and anxiety disorders," Jordan tells Romper. "Sometimes it doesn't go away or dissipate on its own with time and treatment is required."

Much like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is a mental health condition that can impact women after giving birth. The signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe, so it is important that all moms know what to look for and when it is necessary to seek treatment.

"About 10% of women experience significant anxiety after childbirth," maternal mental health specialist Kirsten Brunner tells Romper. "Some worrying and anxiety is perfectly normal for a new mother who is getting to know her baby, but if a mom is feeling excessive worry or dread that interferes with her sleep or normal functioning, she is probably dealing with postpartum anxiety."

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However, if treatment isn't sought for postpartum anxiety, experts agree that some moms may be at higher risk for developing general anxiety past the postpartum period, so it's important to seek help.

"The most common and effective interventions used to treat women experiencing postpartum anxiety include counseling with a trained perinatal mental health provider, medication, and social support," Brown tells Romper. "Early intervention is always best as it can greatly reduce the duration and severity of symptoms."

Whitni Toson, a maternal mental health therapist that specializes in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Texas, explains that several different therapies can be used to treat postpartum anxiety. Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IP) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are two methods, but one common treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which she says "focuses on the individual's beliefs and perceptions about themselves and how they view the world around them."

"When working with mothers, I noticed there tends to be a lot of shame, guilt, and pressure to be a perfect mother," Toson says. "The emotions that they are carrying tend to come with behaviors such as avoidance, passiveness, perfectionism, and people-pleasing. The goal is to help them overcome these uncomfortable emotions and unhealthy behaviors and commit to living their values and practicing more self-compassion."

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

Experts:

Kerri-Anne Brown, LMHC a reproductive and maternal mental health expert with Healing with Wisdom, LLC

Shivonne Odom, LCPC, LPC, perinatal mental health therapist that specializes in Black Maternal Mental Health counseling at Akoma Counseling Concepts, LLC

Kirsten Brunner, M.A., LPC, a maternal mental health specialist

Laura Jordan, M.A., LPC, LMFT, licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist at Jordan Therapy Services

Whitni F. Toson, M.A., LPC, a maternal mental health therapist that specializes in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Texas