Feb 14, 2023 • 7 min read

Postpartum Anxiety Treatment: Medication, Therapy, & More

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Having a baby is a beautiful and life-changing experience for many women, but for some, the most challenging part of motherhood is far from over. Despite the joy of welcoming a new life into the world, 22% of women experience a postpartum mood disorder.

Nearly 1 in 5 women who are pregnant or have recently given birth experience anxiety. Although not as well recognized as postpartum depression, anxiety can be just as debilitating.

Women with postpartum anxiety feel overwhelmed by worry and fear and may struggle with panic, irritability, and restlessness. These symptoms can make it difficult for women to bond with their newborns and to care for themselves and their families.

There are several reasons why postpartum anxiety occurs, including hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and the pressures of new motherhood. This combination can lead to stress and self-doubt, and it can be difficult to shake these feelings.

Fortunately, there are effective treatment options for postpartum anxiety, which we’ll go over in this guide. With the proper treatment, women can manage their symptoms and reclaim their lives as new mothers.

Postpartum anxiety treatment options overview

Postpartum anxiety can be a challenging and overwhelming experience, but there is hope. Several postpartum anxiety treatment alternatives are available, and the right one for you will depend on the severity of your symptoms and your personal preferences.

Postpartum anxiety treatment options include:

  • Support groups. For mild cases of postpartum anxiety, support groups may be a good option. In a supportive environment, you can share your feelings, learn coping strategies, and receive encouragement and support from others.
  • Therapy. Therapy may be a better option for more severe cases of postpartum anxiety. Talking to a mental health professional can help you gain insight into your feelings, identify triggers, and develop healthier approaches to new motherhood.
  • Medication. If your postpartum anxiety is particularly severe, medication may be necessary. Several medicines are available to treat anxiety, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and benzodiazepines. Your doctor can help you determine which drug therapy is best for you and will monitor your progress and adjust your dosage as needed.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at each of these options:

Postpartum anxiety support groups

Postpartum anxiety support groups are a valuable resource for new mothers struggling with worry, fear, and panic. These groups provide a safe and encouraging environment for women to come together and share their experiences with others going through similar challenges.

If you have mild symptoms of postpartum anxiety, a support group may be just what you need to feel less alone and more in control.

One of the benefits of support groups is that they are led by experienced facilitators who can provide guidance and care. These facilitators deeply understand postpartum anxiety and can help you work through your feelings and develop coping strategies.

You can also learn from other women who have been where you are and have found ways to manage their symptoms.

There are two main types of support groups:

  • In-person support groups typically meet in a community center, church, or other public space, allowing you to connect with other women in your area.
  • Online support groups are easily accessed from the comfort of your home and can provide anonymity and convenience.

Finding a postpartum anxiety support group is easier than you might think. You can start by asking your doctor for a referral, searching online for local resources, or contacting organizations such as Postpartum Support International.

Whether you choose an in-person or online support group, the important thing is to reach out and seek help.   

Therapy for postpartum anxiety

Therapy is a form of health treatment that involves talking to a mental health professional about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences. It is a safe and supportive space where you can work through your emotions and gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your postpartum anxiety.

Several types of therapy can be effective, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps moms recognize and change negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to anxiety. It can help you identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts triggering your stress and develop more effective ways of thinking and reacting. CBT has been found to be effective in treating postpartum anxiety and depression. Learn more about postpartum mental health therapy here.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): IPT focuses on improving communication and interpersonal relationships. It concentrates on life circumstances or transitions directly related to anxiety and works towards helpful solutions.
  • Mindfulness-based therapy: Mindfulness-based therapy teaches you to focus on the present moment and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This therapy can help you manage anxiety by engaging in exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation.

Therapy is best for women with moderate to severe symptoms of postpartum anxiety and looking for a more structured and individualized approach to treatment.

Working one-on-one with a mental health professional, you can receive personalized support and guidance as you progress through your symptoms. With the right therapy, you can gain a deeper understanding of your postpartum anxiety, develop coping strategies, and reclaim your life as a new mother.

There are several options when it comes to finding a therapist. You can start by asking your doctor for a referral, searching online for local therapists, or contacting organizations such as the American Psychological Association.

There are also many online therapy options available, which can be a convenient and accessible option for women who cannot attend in-person appointments.

Medications to treat postpartum anxiety

If your symptoms of postpartum anxiety are severe, affecting your daily life and not responding to other treatments like therapy or support groups, it may be time to talk to your doctor about medications.

Your doctor can help you assess your symptoms and determine if medication may be a helpful option for you.

Medications to help with postpartum anxiety treatment include:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are the most widely used class of medications for treating postpartum anxiety. They work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. Common SSRIs to treat postpartum anxiety include sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil). These medications are generally considered safe for use while breastfeeding, although you should always talk to your doctor about your situation.
  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). SNRIs are a type of medication that works similarly to SSRIs, but they also increase the levels of norepinephrine in the brain. SNRIs help to regulate mood and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that work by increasing the levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which helps regulate anxiety. Medications, such as lorazepam, can help treat postpartum anxiety. They are sometimes used while waiting for an SSRI to take effect but must be used with caution in breastfeeding women due to the risk of sedation and other side effects in the baby.

Anxiety can be treated with other medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). However, SSRIs are the preferred medication because of their low side effects.

It is important to remember that medications are not a one-size-fits-all solution and may not be suitable for everyone. Always talk to your doctor about your situation and the best treatment options.

Is it safe to take anxiety medicine while breastfeeding?

The safety of taking anxiety medications while breastfeeding is a question that many new mothers ask. The answer is not straightforward, as different drugs have different risks and benefits, and the decision to take a medication while breastfeeding should be made in consultation with your doctor.

It is important to remember that all medications can transfer from mother to baby through breastmilk, and the decision to take a medication while breastfeeding should consider the potential benefits and risks for both the mother and baby.

The LactMed® database is a helpful resource that contains information on medication use in breastfeeding mothers, information on the levels of medication in breast milk and infant blood, and the potential side effects in nursing infants. Where appropriate, suggested therapeutic alternatives to those drugs are provided.

Other tips for coping with postpartum anxiety

Coping with postpartum anxiety can be challenging, but with the proper support and resources, it is possible to manage symptoms and find peace of mind.

In addition to seeking treatment through therapy or medication, here are some tips for managing postpartum anxiety:

  • Get good sleep. Sleep is crucial for managing anxiety, so it’s important to prioritize getting enough quality sleep and taking naps when necessary.
  • Eat well. A healthy postpartum diet can significantly impact mood and mental health. Eating well-balanced meals and snacks, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, is essential. If you’re experiencing postpartum appetite loss (which is common), you may want to work with a postpartum nutritionist to make sure you’re eating enough.
  • Meditate. Mindfulness meditation can help to calm the mind and reduce anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness can involve focusing on your breath, repeating a mantra, or simply observing your thoughts without judgment.
  • Cuddle your baby. Physical touch can have a calming effect, and cuddling your baby can be a great way to soothe both of you.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise can help to improve mood, reduce stress, and boost energy levels. Exercise can involve anything from going for a walk to taking a yoga class, as long as it’s an activity you enjoy.
  • Ask for help. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family, or friends. Whether it’s a simple task like grocery shopping or a more complex request like babysitting, having support can make a big difference in managing postpartum anxiety.

Incorporating these tips into your daily routine can help you take control of your postpartum anxiety.

Other postpartum anxiety resources

Here are some official resources that parents experiencing postpartum anxiety can turn to:

  • The American Psychological Association (APA). A professional organization of psychologists that provides information and resources on various mental health conditions, including postpartum anxiety. The APA website is a good starting point for learning more about the condition and finding a therapist.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). A professional organization of pediatricians that provides information and resources for parents and healthcare providers. The AAP website has a section dedicated to maternal and child health, where you can find information on postpartum anxiety and other related topics.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). A federal agency that conducts research on mental health and provides information to the public. The NIMH website provides information on postpartum anxiety, including the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
  • Postpartum Support International (PSI). A non-profit organization that provides support, education, and resources for women experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The PSI website has a directory of local support groups and resources and a helpline you can call for support.
Dr. Cheryl Mearig is a medical writer and pharmacy expert. She has her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from SUNY Buffalo and has worked in various settings, including as clinical pharmacist, clinical assistant professor, and community-based wellness educator. Her focus on medication safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding and her understanding of perinatal care fuel her passion for empowering moms to make informed decisions. Dr. Mearig is dedicated to improving the lives of mothers and their babies by providing reliable and accessible information that helps them navigate motherhood's challenges with confidence and peace of mind.