According to a recent study, there’s a disorder affecting far more new mums than the widely documented baby blues or postnatal depression; postnatal anxiety is a bigger issue for those with newborns than we realise – and it’s getting not nearly enough attention in order to treat its sufferers.
For some, the distinction between PND and postnatal anxiety might seem like a case of psychoscience-y semantics, but if you happen to have been diagnosed with depression after giving birth, and the diagnosis doesn’t quite fit what you’re actually experiencing, knowing the difference could be the key to a better quality of life.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that severe anxiety is actually three to four times more prevalent than depression, both during pregnancy and in early motherhood. The study followed 310 pregnant-women-turned-mums in the US from 2007 to 2010.
Sixteen percent of pregnant women, and 17 percent of new mums presented with diagnosable anxiety disorders. – a considerable statistic given that just four percent of pregnant women, and five percent of new mothers, had depression.
Nichole Fairbrother, a psychologist and the study’s leader, explains, “The implication of this finding is that we have a collection of mental health conditions that we’re not paying enough attention to. Anxiety disorders cause a huge amount of emotional distress—they compromise quality of life, they’re associated with lots of health care cost and they’re impairing, so they interfere with the ability to work.” She adds that although more research is needed, an anxious mum’s relationship with her child may suffer as well.
The ultimate conclusion of the findings, and the crux of the matter, Fairbrother notes, is that some women who are being treated for depression may be better served if they were treated for anxiety instead.
If you feel like you might be a candidate for postnatal anxiety, remember that it goes beyond the normal, instinctive, worrying about your baby that happens to all first-time parents. If your anxiety is interfering with your daily life, however, and you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or you find yourself house-bound by choice – out of fear for outside dangers, ask for help.
In either case, reaching out is imperative, especially in the early stages of mumhood, and commiseration is a brilliant healing tool. Join online forums, find a local support group, and get expert advice if you’re having a hard time coping. These experiences are far more common than you realise, but they don’t have to be permanent part of your existence.