Some types of anxiety need additional, more specific tools to help manage them effectively. We have linked to sections of the Adult Self-Help section of Anxiety Canada’s website for these extra tools.

Panic attacks

Some new moms fear having panic attacks. They may begin to avoid doing things or going places that may bring on a panic attack or panic attack-like symptoms, such as:

  • certain places that remind her of a past panic attack
  • places that would be difficult to escape from should she start to feel panicky (such as the mall or public transit)
  • activities that bring on similar physical sensations of panic,
    like increased breathing or heart rate

Sometimes this anxiety is so intense that she barely wants to leave the house. See the Panic Disorder page to find out more and learn how to manage it.

Quick Facts about Panic Attacks

  • Panic attacks are not harmful or dangerous, although they can feel very scary.
  • You might feel like you are dying or going crazy, but you are not.
  • Panic attacks are brief, although they sometimes feel like they go on forever.
  • Panic attacks are private experiences. Others (except those very close to you) usually cannot tell that you are having a panic attack.

Obsessive compulsive behaviours

Other moms are more focused on very distressing or anxiety-provoking thoughts that seem to keep intruding into their minds, over and over. For example, she may have disturbing images of cutting up her baby, drowning her baby, her baby getting some rare contagious disease, or even some stranger kidnapping her baby. She may also imagine that everything is covered in toxic and dangerous germs.

Certain compulsions or rituals may develop as a way to deal with these distressing thoughts, such as:

  • avoiding certain objects or situations
  • repeating prayers or phrases in the head to keep thoughts away or “protect the baby”
  • obsessively cleaning or arranging things until it “feels right”
  • repeatedly checking things over and over “just in case”

Many new moms (like Jennifer) suffer in silence and feel embarrassed or guilty for having such thoughts and urges. Having these obsessions does not mean that we are crazy, dangerous, or evil deep down inside! Our safety (and the safety of our loved ones) is determined by our actions, NOT our thoughts. Intrusive, unwanted, or even disturbing thoughts are common; everyone experiences them from time to time.

To find out more about obsessions and compulsions (and OCD), see the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder page.

The Difference between Postpartum OCD and Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is distinctly different from postpartum psychosis. In postpartum psychosis, the new mom has lost touch with reality and may be experiencing delusions and faulty beliefs, and may be in danger of harming the baby. For example, she may think her baby is possessed by a demon. She may hear voices and/or see things that others don’t see. Postpartum psychosis is a very serious problem. If you have any concerns about yourself or someone you know, please seek professional help.

On the other hand, women who are experiencing postpartum OCD have not lost contact with reality. OCD is an anxiety disorder. Women who are suffering from postpartum OCD are often highly distressed and disturbed by their intrusive thoughts, and they behave in ways to diminish or “neutralize” their thoughts. They are so afraid that their thoughts will come true. This is not the case for women suffering from postpartum psychosis, who can’t separate what they are thinking from reality and may take steps towards acting on their thoughts.

For more information, read the article “Beyond the Blues” from the International OCD Foundation.

Generalized anxiety

Other moms (like Salima) may start to experience excessive and uncontrollable worries. As a result, they may feel constantly keyed up and on edge, have excessive doubts, and have difficulty “shutting off” the mind, particularly before sleep. She may worry about things like the health and safety of her baby and her abilities as a mom.

Find out more ways to manage worries.

If you think your anxiety is excessive and uncontrollable worries are really affecting your happiness and peace of mind, see Generalized Anxiety Disorder to find out more and learn how to manage it.

Post-traumatic stress

For some women, childbirth can actually be a traumatic experience, as it was for Ellen. Women who have had a history of past traumas (like childhood sexual abuse) can be triggered by the delivery process. As a result, these moms can experience:

  • upsetting and vivid memories, nightmares, and flashbacks of the childbirth
  • feelings of being numb and detached
  • extreme emotional and/or physical reactions when reminded of childbirth (such as starting to cry uncontrollably or becoming suddenly enraged)
  • a desire to avoid things that remind her of birth experience

It’s important to note that not everyone who experienced a traumatic childbirth will develop these symptoms. Some moms experience some of these symptoms for a few weeks but then recover and are able to generally move on. It’s also important to note that sometimes these symptoms do not show up right away and can develop months or even years later. However, if you feel that you may be suffering from the signs of this anxiety problem, see the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder page to find out more and learn how to manage it.

Social anxiety

Some new moms feel extremely self-conscious around others. They may have difficulty speaking in public and avoid certain places out of fear of perceived judgments and criticism. For example, a new mom may avoid going to a drop-in playgroup because she fears the others with think negative things about her. She may be highly anxious about saying or doing the wrong thing, somehow looking wrong or unacceptable, or worry about other things like blushing or freezing. Because social interactions create so much anxiety and discomfort, she may just decide to stay home and avoid other people when possible.

If you feel like you may be experiencing increased social anxiety and it is significantly interfering with your life, see the Social Anxiety Disorder page to find out more and learn how to manage it.

An untreated anxiety disorder can often put a person at increased risk for future problems with anxiety and depression. If you think your anxiety is significantly interfering with your overall well-being and/or your parenting abilities, discuss it with your maternity care provider or family doctor.