Postpartum depression has been getting some notoriety in the last few years and deservedly so, but for a moment I want to talk about it’s nasty cousin: anxiety.
Anxiety usually comes along with PPD, and depression in general, and I don’t see many people talking about it. I see all kinds of people talk about postpartum depression and encourage other people to get help, but when I see people talk about postpartum anxiety they often refuse to admit that it is a result of postpartum brain changes. It changes our lives just as much and deserves just as much attention.
Being nervous isn’t the same as anxiety. Anxiety is Elmyra (https://youtu.be/pxvzEfI0BFU) from Looney Tunes. It picks you up, squeezes you, and refuses to let you go thinking it’s doing good for you by making you aware of danger. However, the danger is often exaggerated or out right imaginary. In my own experience, I have been told it’s normal to lie awake all night to protect my child from SIDs or obsessively check her car seat, making sure it’s just so before leaving! It is absolutely not. Compulsively washing our hands or being overly prepared is anxiety. It may wear off naturally, but if it doesn’t, get help!
Our brains change during and after pregnancy. First off the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum hormones can wreak havoc on our bodies and brains, and our brains actually grow or shrink areas in reaction to having a baby. Areas associated with love, empathy, and protection grow. One of these being the amygdala, which is responsible for emotional reactions, particularly anxiety, aggression, and empathy.citation
We know moderate changes to the amygdala increase bonding with baby. Can we please recognize that too much of these changes result in postpartum anxiety, and that it’s not normal? Can we please help women who are asking for it without blowing off their concerns that anxiety after birth isn’t worth treatment?