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Coping With Postpartum Anxiety and Panic Disorder

Updated on August 15, 2012

Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum Panic Disorder

You've waited in anticipation for 9 months for the arrival of your new little baby. You've put together a nursery and prepared to bring them home with unfaltering excitement, and for a while after you get home, everything seems perfect. You may be tired from night feedings or feel like you're spread a little thin if you have multiple kids, but you're just to full of love to really notice. Then something happened, you are sitting on the couch one night holding your newborn, and suddenly you feel like you can't breathe. You are certain that your throat is closing up, and death is imminent. What do you do? Call 9-1-1! Run to the neighbors! Call your husband! Your mind is going about a mile a minute, and your heart seems to be beating even faster than that. And then, almost as soon as the feeling started, it just goes away, leaving you to wonder what just happen, and whether or not it will happen again.

This is what happened to me. After the birth of my second son in 2011, I couldn't have been happier, but that night everything changed. Something had happened to me, and I had no idea what it was, or if it would strike again. I started having frequent heart palpitations. I felt irritable. As episodes like the ones I described above became more frequent (at times more than once a day) I knew it was time to get to a doctor. After seemingly dozens of tests, I was told that I had postpartum anxiety as well as postpartum panic disorder.

Now What?

At first I was relieved to have a diagnosis. This was only temporary, and with time things would return to normal. These feelings changed though, as my panic attacks increased, and I started becoming more anxious about everyday tasks like driving and shopping. I was anxious I would have an attack with my children in the car, or while giving them a bath. These thoughts would often overwhelm me and trigger more attacks.

You might be wondering why I wasn't on medication. I did try one medication called Buspar for the anxiety that my doctor deemed to be safe for use in breastfeeding, but all this did was take some of the edge off. Unfortunately postpartum disorders like these can be more difficult to treat with medication, especially if the mother is breastfeeding. A big problem is that a lot of medications used to treat panic and anxiety have a sedating effect, which just won't work if you have small children to care for. Of the ones that may be left it is difficult to find something that works for the person and is safe in breastfeeding. It seemed that my only option was to wait it out, and my doctor agreed.

Things That Helped Me

  1. Support. Support is so important when you're dealing with something like postpartum anxiety or panic disorder. Find someone you can talk to like your husband, a family member, a good friend or a neighbor. If you feel a panic attack starting or are feeling particularly anxious, call one of your support people. Having someone to talk to about how your feeling or help take your mind off it can make a huge difference.
  2. Diet. Get your diet right. A lot of mothers to new babies have less than stellar diets. This is because time spent with the new baby can make preparing nutritious meals a task. It is important to make sure you're getting the proper nutrients for a balance in your body. If you are feeling overwhelmed and don't have time to cook for yourself, ask for help. Most people don't have a problem helping out a new mother.
  3. B Complex Vitamins. Aside from improving your diet, taking B complex vitamins have been shown to help reduce stress. In addition to B vitamins many of these formulas also contain larger doses of vitamin C and Zinc which can help boost an immune system that has been ravaged by stress.
  4. Ask For Help. Ask someone you trust to take your kids even just for an hour or two so you can gather your thoughts, relax or even take a nap. Proper sleep is an importan part of reducing stress.
  5. Go To The Doctor! Sometimes you might become convinced that there is something else wrong with you. You have a terminal disease causing your stress or that you're going to have a heart attack at any second. That is how I felt ofter. Just go to the doctor. Don't sit at home and dwell on your feelings, this will only make them worse. It's worth your copay if you have insurance to just get some piece of mind, even if it is only temporary.

My youngest is almost one now, and although the worst part of this disease only lasted about 2 months. I still deal with some lingering anxiety, especially in the form of heart palpitations. I just want anyone who is currently dealing with postpartum anxiety and panic disorder to know that it does get better. You can and will feel normal again, and everything is going to be okay.


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    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      I am not a mother, but I happened to be hypoglycemic. Controlling my nutrients, I reduced the attacks actually to zero.

      I think that food supplements, although so much criticized, are not bad. You'd have to eat tons of food to replenish, especially after childbirth.

      As you seem not to associate your attacks with anything psychological - mine were different, but just like in your case, there wasn't anything psychological - it might be worthwhile to have a test for blood sugars, etc.

      Magnesium, calcium, potassium and vitamins B are widely available over the counter.

      Many metabolic conditions are completely reversible.