Postpartum Anxiety vs. Postpartum Depression: What's the Difference?

Annie Shaltz, NP
Nurse Practitioner
Medically Reviewed
October 14, 2020

If you’ve never heard the term postpartum anxiety (PPA) you’re not alone. This mental health mood disorder is the nasty sister of postpartum depression (PPD), and many people within the medical community aren’t even aware of it. Why is that? Unlike postpartum depression, which has been well-studied, there has not been substantial research devoted to postpartum anxiety.

PPA and PPD have many qualities that overlap and often co-exist. For women who are screened for PPD and able to get the treatment they need, they will often also be able to address PPA with treatment.

Key differences are that PPD more often involves sadness, crying, suicidal thoughts (suicide is the number one cause of death of new mothers in the postpartum period), fatigue , feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, and lack of interest in your baby. Where PPD and PPA overlap include changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, poor concentration, inability to care for self, and isolation.

There are several complications of PPA including postpartum rage, postpartum panic attacks, and postpartum OCD (PPOCD). A woman experiencing postpartum rage has outbursts of anger, has a short fuse, is irritable, and easily triggered. Dr. Libby Coleman, co-author of Pregnancy: A Psychological Experience , relates this to unmet needs, lack of support, burnout , relationship challenges, isolation, and the struggle to adjust to motherhood. All the more reason to get the treatment you need so you can identify the underlying cause of your postpartum anxiety and work to correct it.

Postpartum panic attacks can seriously limit a woman’s ability to function, and disrupts her ability to care for herself and her child. The three distinct fears that women with postpartum panic disorder have include fear of death, fear of having lost control, and fear that they are unstable or perceived as such.

Other women may suffer from postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (PPOCD). One does not need to be previously diagnosed with OCD to experience this. What makes this unique is that the intrusive thoughts become obsessions or repetitive unpleasant thoughts or mental images related to the baby. Some women compulsively do certain behaviors over and over to reduce intrusive/ compulsive thoughts. Behaviors include constantly cleaning, rearranging, or compulsively checking things related to safety or security. Mothers with PPOCD are often afraid to be left alone with their infant or are hypervigilant about protecting the baby.

Annie Shaltz, NP
Nurse Practitioner

Annie Shaltz, NP, is a board-certified Adult-Gerontological Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. She earned her master’s degree from NYU as a nurse practitioner with a holistic specialization, which exposed her to a wide array of healing modalities, including functional medicine. Annie marries her clinical expertise with her holistic nursing background, sense of humor, and compassion.

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