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Postnatal anxiety symptoms

It is normal to worry when you have a new baby, it is a life changing event. However, when worrying starts having a negative impact on your life you should talk about it and seek help from a healthcare professional.

Below is a list of symptoms women may experience with postnatal anxiety. Find out what you might be experiencing if you have these symptoms.

Physical symptoms

  • Racing or thumping heartbeat, or heart skipping beats
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Stomach upset, butterflies, nausea
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Muscle tension, or legs feeling shaky or weak
  • Pins and needles
  • Needing the toilet more frequently, or less frequently

Persistent, unjustified worry

You might find that you can’t stop worrying about things, and that thoughts are racing through your mind. Some worries might be quite general, while others may be more related to motherhood. For example, you may find that you worry about: how to look after your baby, your relationship with your partner, or how you are adjusting to a change in identity and role

Below is a description of many of the worries women with perinatal anxiety say they experience in pregnancy:

Irritability

  • I often snap at my partner/friends/family/baby; and have no patience
  • I feel like I am always about to lose my temper; or find myself getting angry at really little things
  • My partner feels like they are walking on egg-shells around me
  • My mood is erratic – I’m so up and down; I can go from calm to full blown rage in seconds – this is not like me.
  • I sometimes throw or break things to let off steam

Obsessive and intrusive negative thoughts

Getting constant negative thoughts or images that I am unable to control, for example:

  • I keep getting unwanted images or thoughts about things happening to me in public (e.g. wetting myself, breasts leaking)
  • I constantly worry I am not doing the “right things” the experts say to do with my baby
  • I can’t stop imagining something terrible happening to my baby
  • I can’t relax as I constantly question myself over things like did I lock back door? Is the baby ok? What if someone breaks in?
  • I worry obsess about making the wrong decision and this will hurt the baby, for example, vaccinations, sleeping arrangements, medications etc.
  • I can’t stop thinking about my baby’s health and wellbeing (e.g. that something bad will happen to them)
  • I keep worrying about germs contaminating my baby
  • I am distressed that I have thoughts about hurting my baby

Checking behaviours (to neutralise negative thoughts)

Repeatedly carrying out specific checking behaviours or rituals to reduce (or counteract) negative thoughts:

  • I obsessively monitor my baby (e.g. by keeping a log of feeds and stools for longer than I am told to; or repeatedly checking the baby is alive sometimes even waking them up) and worry that there will be something wrong
  • I am constantly checking sources of information about parenting (e.g. advice about safe practice; information about things that can go wrong; reading other people’s experiences)
  • I pray to counteract my obsessive thoughts; or use rituals to quieten my persistent worries
  • I excessively seek assurance from professionals that everything is OK; or book multiple check-ups/appointments
  • I obsessively clean the house to make sure it is spotless and tidy, often cleaning several times when I do not need to; or wash and rewash all baby bottles, clothes and bedding
  • I exhaust myself going to every postnatal class or group

Difficulty concentrating / ‘brain fog’

  • My mind often feels ‘foggy’ or heavy and I can’t think properly
  • I feel like I constantly have thoughts running through my mind, that I can’t control, jumping around all over the place, making it difficult to focus
  • Sometimes I find it hard to get things done; or even hold a coherent conversation
  • I feel disorganised or have trouble remembering things
  • My mind is so confused I struggle to do basic things

Sleep disturbance and/or difficulty relaxing (unrelated to baby’s needs)

  • Sometimes I can’t sleep as I am worrying about the baby or my health; or I have a series of intrusive thoughts running thoughts my head
  • I have difficulty staying asleep for no reason or waking early with panic and unable to get back to sleep
  • I feel constantly alert and on edge, unable to relax and enjoy the things I use to (e.g.  reading, watching TV).
  • I wake up early or in the night and feeling restless. I toss and turn. I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Worries come into my mind and I cannot shake them or get back to sleep.
  • I have insomnia

Agitation and restlessness

  • When I am out I only feel OK if I am doing something for the baby, like swaying, bobbing up and down with them. I hide my anxiety behind looking after the baby.
  • I feel like I have to be doing something all the time, feeding the baby, washing clothes, cleaning the house etc.
  • I have a lot of nervous energy. I can’t sit still for at all or for long.
  • I make excessive lists of things to do and feel agitated if I cannot get everything on the list done.
  • When I need to rest I find it hard to keep still or get my mind to be quiet.
  • I have an over-exaggerated startle response; jumping at the slightest thing.
  • I feel like I’m on the constant look out for danger, even though I don’t know what the threat is.

Avoidance behaviours

  • I avoid the place I gave birth
  • I find it hard to be around my baby as they remind me of the birth
  • I do not talk about my childbirth experience, it is too painful
  • My anxiety gets worse around reminders of the birth, for example, my baby’s birthday
  • I use drugs or alcohol to stop thinking about the birth

Disturbing images, flashbacks or nightmares about birth

I feel like I re-experience a traumatic event through flashbacks, memories, unwanted thoughts and nightmares these may be related to any of the following:

  • Childbirth
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Previous losses
  • IVF
  • A traumatic event experienced around the perinatal period

Panic attacks:

If you are worried you might be experiencing perinatal anxiety, visit our self assessements and self-help tools or talk to a healthcare professional.

Look after yourself and seek help, if you need it.