Postpartum anxiety is when worry over your new baby is more than what’s expected — it becomes a constant feeling that interferes with your well-being.

Worrying about your baby’s health and well-being — from their eating and sleeping habits to your interactions with them — is a typical and natural part of being a new parent. Sometimes, though, feelings of worry can become overwhelming and persistent.

When this occurs, you may be experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety. And if you are, you’re not alone.

Yes, postpartum depression — more than just the “baby blues” — often receives more attention, but postpartum anxiety affects quite a few parents every year, too.

While these disorders can occur together, they are distinct conditions that can pop up independently of each other.

Experiencing postpartum anxiety doesn’t make you a “bad parent.” Treatment and support are available if you or a loved one is dealing with postpartum anxiety.

It’s perfectly OK to worry about your new baby, both at the hospital following delivery and when you come home. You may find yourself asking questions like:

  • Are they eating enough?
  • Are they getting enough sleep?
  • Are they sleeping too much?
  • Am I interacting enough with them?

When does worry become a sign of something deeper? Each person is different, so it can vary.

You may feel like you can’t relax. Your worry may distract you from doing your usual tasks. In some cases, you may feel a sense of dread that never really goes away.

When this persists, it may help to develop some strategies for relieving these feelings.

Postpartum anxiety can cause both mental and physical symptoms.

Some mental symptoms include:

  • racing thoughts
  • worry that does not ease
  • trouble sleeping, even when your baby has fallen asleep
  • feelings of dread about things that have not happened yet

You may also experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as:

  • hyperventilation
  • fatigue
  • sweating
  • heart palpitations
  • trembling or shaking
  • vomiting
  • nausea

No matter how postpartum anxiety affects you, you are not alone. In a large 2013 study of over 4,400 women who had recently given birth, 18% reported symptoms of anxiety, with 35% also reporting signs of depression.

Postpartum anxiety and OCD

Some people may experience obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), with obsessions or compulsions related to their new baby. OCD is not officially classed as an anxiety-related disorder.

Obsessions can take the form of intrusive, repetitive thoughts and images of your baby. They can be unsettling or upsetting, since many can involve thoughts of aggression toward baby, per a 2018 research review.

Compulsions are actions you may perform to help alleviate worry or anxiety. They can include:

  • constant cleaning
  • checking in on your baby
  • reorganizing objects around the house
  • other repetitive tasks

You may recognize that the thoughts or actions are bizarre or are “not right.” Know that if you experience these thoughts, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

You may find that talking about them with a healthcare professional is helpful. They may be able to recommend therapies to help you feel better and quiet the thoughts.

A lot of things can cause worry for parents when baby arrives. This may be particularly true for new parents, but even experienced parents will find things to worry about when a new baby comes home.

When your worry changes from manageable to all-encompassing, though, other factors may be at play.

One likely factor influencing postpartum anxiety is changes in hormone levels.

When you give birth, your hormone levels suddenly drop. The sudden loss of hormones can cause you to become more sensitive to stress, which can lead to panic or fearfulness.

Several risk factors may make it more likely that you’ll develop postpartum anxiety. But just because you may have one or more risk factors, it doesn’t mean you will definitely develop this condition.

Some common risk factors include:

  • crisis related to housing, finances, or work
  • family or personal history of anxiety
  • previous mood reactions to hormonal changes during events like puberty, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or birth control
  • personal or family history of a perinatal mental health conditions
  • pregnancy during teen years
  • previous infant or pregnancy loss
  • lower socioeconomic status
  • limited or no social support from friends or family
  • history of endocrine dysfunction like diabetes or thyroid imbalance

Research from 2018 also shows that delivering your child preterm can also be a risk factor for developing both postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression.

The same research suggests that the birthing parent of a baby admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit may have more anxiety than other parents, because they’re separated from their babies.

They’re also unable to nurture their child without medical staff present and are confronted with the idea daily that their child requires extra medical care.

Experts don’t really know how long you might experience postpartum anxiety symptoms.

According to a 2015 review study, clinicians usually define generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as lasting for 6 months or more, though some studies consider someone to have perinatal (postpartum) GAD if their symptoms persist for more than 1 month.

Symptoms may also develop before you give birth.

According to one 2018 study of over 250 people:

  • 35% had high anxiety during pregnancy
  • 17% developed it immediately after childbirth
  • 20% developed it 6 weeks postpartum

Some people did see improvements in their symptoms once they delivered the baby.

If you experience symptoms of postpartum anxiety, talking with your doctor about what you’re going through may help. They can help get you started on a treatment plan to address your feelings.

Some common treatments for postpartum anxiety include:

You may also want to consider making some lifestyle changes. Some practices you may find helpful include:

  • taking time for yourself
  • getting regular exercise
  • eating nutritious food
  • learning to set realistic expectations
  • joining a support group

You don’t need to manage postpartum anxiety alone.

You may benefit from talking with your doctor. A good time may be at your follow up appointment following the birth of your child.

However, if you suspect that you or a loved one has postpartum anxiety, you can always call an OB-GYN for support sooner. (If you are a partner, family member, or friend, you may find this article on how to support a new mother through anxiety and depression useful to help you understand what they’re going through.)

You may also benefit from going to a support group, where you can meet other people experiencing postpartum anxiety. A healthcare professional in your area may be able to help you find a local support group to consider joining.

These organizations may also provide resources and support:

You may also want to rely on friends and family for support when dealing with the big feelings that accompany postpartum anxiety and new parenthood in general.