Understanding and managing postpartum anxiety

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Page medically reviewed by Dr Hassan Kapadia (BMedSc, MBChB, MRCPsych, PGDipCT, DRCOG, CCT), Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham, in April 2022. 

Having a baby is a huge adjustment and it’s normal to feel a whole range of emotions during this time. You might feel excited and joyful at the same time as feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. You might also be worrying about lots of different things such as:

  • Whether your baby is feeding enough
  • Whether your baby is hitting their milestones
  • Protecting your baby from germs
  • Whether you’ll manage to get any sleep
  • Whether you’re bonding with your baby
  • Your own physical recovery from birth
  • How you’re going to keep on top of household chores

These worries and anxieties can be a completely normal reaction to having a baby. However, if you’re finding that your worrying has become out of control and you’re unable to switch off or relax at all, it might be that you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety.

Here, we explore postpartum anxiety in more detail, in terms of the symptoms to look out for and the treatment that’s available.

I think a lot of expectation, especially out of giving birth, some women think they're going to have this green goddess experience, back to nature experience, and the reality is not necessarily like it is for some women"

Priory expert, Dr Victoria Chamorro, discuss women's mental health on the latest episode of Perspectives. Hear her incredible insights into maternal mental health below:

What is postpartum anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety, or postnatal anxiety, refers to anxiety that occurs at any point within the first year following the birth of a baby. As many as one in five new mums experience mental health challenges after birth and like postnatal depression, postpartum anxiety is one of the most common problems. However, with postpartum anxiety, you won’t typically experience the intense feelings of sadness and low mood that come with depression. It’s also possible for you to experience postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression at the same time.

In addition, it’s important to understand that anxiety can also be a symptom of what’s known as the ‘baby blues’. The baby blues usually occur within the first week of giving birth and can make new mums feel low, tearful, stressed, irritable and anxious. However, the symptoms of the baby blues usually disappear after around 2 weeks so if you’re finding that your anxiety is persistent and goes on for a longer period of time, it might be that you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety.

Postpartum anxiety symptoms

  • Worry that’s constant and out of control
  • Feeling as though you’re constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode
  • Feelings of dread and worrying that something bad is going to happen to your baby
  • Worrying that you’re an unfit parent and that your baby is going to be taken away from you
  • Constantly asking for reassurance from loved ones and healthcare professionals
  • Inability to sleep, even when your baby is sleeping
  • Racing thoughts
  • Nausea and diarrhoea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Poor appetite
  • Panic attacks

symptoms of postpartum anxiety

How long does postpartum anxiety last?

Without professional support, postpartum anxiety can last for months and even years. It can have a debilitating impact on your life as well as the lives of those around you, and can prevent you from experiencing the joy and happiness you deserve.

If you’re experiencing significant anxiety that’s affecting your daily life, and this has been going on for longer than the typical 2-week ‘baby blues’ period, it’s so important that you reach out for help. You don’t have to struggle with postpartum anxiety. This condition is very treatable and it’s possible for you to make a full recovery.

Can postpartum anxiety be treated?

Many parents find it difficult to open up about negative feelings following the birth of a baby, as they feel as though they should be happy and think that everyone else around them with new babies seems to be doing much better than them. They may worry that they will seem ungrateful or incompetent, which can make new parents bottle up their feelings of anxiety. However, it’s important to understand that postpartum anxiety is a mental health condition that needs treatment.

The first port of call may be for you to speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor about how you’re feeling. They’ll be able to assess your symptoms, provide you with professional advice and refer you for specialist treatment if needed. Alternatively, you can contact a private provider like Priory directly. Our expert psychiatrists have a wealth of experience in diagnosing and treating anxiety disorders and we’ll be able to kickstart your journey to recovery.

Depending on how severe your symptoms are, there are a range of effective treatment programmes for postpartum anxiety. These include:

  • Inpatient treatment – a residential stay in a mental health treatment centre. There, you can focus fully on recovery, away from the stresses and strains of the outside world
  • Day care and outpatient treatment – attending a mental health facility for an agreed number of sessions where you can receive therapy and other treatment
  • Online therapy – get help at a time and place that suits you, via online therapy

During these programmes, it's likely that you'll receive a combination of therapy and medication to treat your postpartum anxiety.

When we get anxious about things, we’re making a negative prediction about what will happen. However if you test this out, it’s likely that you’ll prove yourself wrong, showing you there was nothing to be anxious about in the first place.

​Read Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Donna Grant's, top tips for dealing with anxiety.

Dr Donna Grant Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford


The backbone of many treatment plans for sufferers of postnatal anxiety is therapy. This could take place on a one-to-one basis or as part of a group. Family members or your partner might also be involved in therapy sessions.

Whichever type of therapy is right for you, the aim will be to get to the core of what’s causing your anxiety disorder and work to overcome those issues.

A range of therapies are proven to be effective at treating postpartum anxiety. One of those is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims to teach you to recognise, acknowledge and have greater control over your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Studies have repeatedly shown the effectiveness of CBT in treating many types of anxiety disorder (source).

Other therapies you might be introduced to include:

  • Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)
  • Person-centred therapy (PCT)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Mindfulness


You might also be prescribed medication to help with postpartum anxiety, especially if your symptoms are moderate or severe. This should always come alongside therapy, helping to reduce your symptoms, so you can focus fully on recovery.

One of the most common medications is from a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These also have antidepressant properties and can complement the therapeutic elements of your anxiety treatment.

Contact us for help, referrals or more information

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