Postnatal anxiety: Signs and symptoms

It’s natural to have some anxiety and extra worries when you bring a baby into the world, but when it starts to interfere with your ability to function in daily life, you may be experiencing postnatal anxiety.

Many new mums are aware of the more obvious signs of postnatal depression but are surprised to discover what postnatal anxiety can look like. Perhaps it’s talked about less, or maybe new mums are keeping the symptoms to themselves either because they’re embarrassed, or they’ve been told that what they’re experiencing is normal.

For whatever the reason women aren’t always informed about postnatal anxiety, it’s certainly not because it’s uncommon: postnatal anxiety affects 1 in 5 Australian women in the first year of giving birth. It can begin immediately after birth or gradually in the weeks or even months after. The type of symptoms along with the severity and frequency of them will be very different for every mother.

What are the signs and symptoms of postnatal anxiety?

Everyone experiences postnatal anxiety differently. The way it affects each person depends on multiple factors including their physical, mental, and emotional make-up and ability to cope, as well as their unique environment and situation. There is no single cause of anxiety, and women who have experienced it before may find that they’re symptoms return or get worse after the birth.

Postnatal anxiety can impact your mood, behaviour, and relationships. Some of the signs and symptoms to look out for in yourself or a loved one include:

  • Constantly feeling like you can’t cope
  • Persistent generalised worry
  • Feeling nervous, panicky, stressed, or on edge
  • Scary and intrusive thoughts
  • Feeling like everything needs to be done ‘right’
  • Feelings of doom or dread
  • Feeling scared, lonely, or isolated even around loved ones
  • Catastrophising, thinking about all the ‘what ifs’
  • Obsessive or compulsive thoughts
  • Uncharacteristic rage
  • Preoccupied and over-researching
  • Excessive fears about life with your baby
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Easily irritated
  • Panic attacks
  • Very rigid about baby’s feeding and sleeping routine
  • Tension in shoulders, jaw, and chest
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Easily startled and feeling scared for no reason
  • Changes to your appetite
  • Having urges to self-harm
  • Elevated breathing and heart rate
  • Experiencing vertigo (feeling faint, trembly)
  • Changes to your libido
  • Excessive checking of your baby’s breathing when they’re asleep
  • Obsessively cleaning
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Increased arguments with loved ones
  • Worry about telling anyone how you’re feeling

You might be experiencing some or nearly all of these symptoms, and you’re definitely not alone. It’s also very common to experience postnatal anxiety and postnatal depression at the same time – these conditions concur in up to 50% of cases.

Some women will experience mild symptoms, while others experience them moderately or severely.

Seeking support

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, no matter the duration or severity, and they’re impacting your physical and emotional wellbeing, please speak to someone. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can work towards recovery.

You can call the PANDA helpline to speak to a peer support person or health professional if you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know.

Your doctor or maternal and child health nurse may offer you screening assessments. Your scores from these scales and questionnaires can determine if you require further mental health assessments to diagnose anxiety.

Receiving treatment

Your doctor or mental health professional will discuss treatment options with you, which will likely be psychological (talking) therapy and possibly medication (antidepressants) depending on the severity of your anxiety.

More information about anxiety in early parenthood can be found at COPE. Download their postnatal anxiety fact sheet here.


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