A variety of factors can contribute to anxiety in new moms, such as sleep deprivation, individual or family history of anxiety, hormonal changes or a lack of social support. For many first-time moms, the responsibility of their new role can be overwhelming.
Ruta Kulys, a licensed clinical social worker at Memorial Counseling Associates, said mild anxiety involves feelings of unease, nervousness and worry. More severe anxiety can involve excessive worry or distress accompanied by physical tension, restless sleep, feeling keyed up and trouble concentrating.
“I have worked with new moms who report disturbing thoughts or images that they can’t shake, often images of something bad happening to the baby. These are not plans to hurt the baby but rather intrusive thoughts that are distressing to the mother,” Kulys said. “Often moms experiencing these thoughts are afraid to let anyone know due to shame or fear that others will think they are a bad mother. I recommend that moms experiencing these types of thoughts talk to a doctor or mental health professional experienced in working with postpartum issues.”
New moms might be hesitant to seek help, but Kulys says it is worth it to identify ways to get relief from anxiety.
“A therapist is not a family member or a friend, but someone a new mom can be honest with, without fear of being judged or criticized,” Kulys said. “A therapist can help a new mom adjust to her role and the stress of the responsibilities that go along with it.”
To help prevent anxiety or try to keep it at a minimum level, Kulys recommends these tips to help new moms lessen their anxiety:
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. Getting enough sleep is vital to a new mother’s well-being.
- Exercise. Physical exertion can make a huge impact on decreasing anxiety. It does not have to be high intensity — just enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. Put the baby in a stroller and go for a walk. Take a mom/baby exercise class.
- Get out and spend time with other mothers. Memorial Medical Center has a wonderful Mom/Baby Support Group. It meets weekly, is free and provides new moms a chance to network with others experiencing a similar stage of motherhood.
- Take time for your own recharging. Stretch. Take some deep breaths. Unclench your jaw. Take a long bath.
Dads also play a role in helping moms deal with anxiety. Kulys encourages dads to provide practical and emotional support.
“Practical support may mean doing the laundry, letting mom sleep in on the weekend or picking up take-out on the way home,” Kulys said. “Emotional support may involve telling the new mom that she is doing a good job, reassuring her about her weight and looks. It may also mean listening to her fears and concerns.”
Motherhood can have its challenges, especially in the beginning. But with support, a realistic outlook and opportunities to unwind, anxiety can take a back seat to time enjoying your bundle of joy.