Awareness about postpartum depression has grown over the past several decades. Women are realizing they are not alone and can seek help. But fewer are aware of postpartum anxiety.
A recent study sought to find out how common anxiety after giving birth is among women. The researchers found that anxiety is actually more common than postpartum depression.
The anxiety was more common among first-time moms and those who had cesarean sections.
Postpartum anxiety was also linked to shorter times spent breastfeeding. The authors recommended mothers be screened for postpartum anxiety.
The study, led by Ian M. Paul, MD, MSc, of the Departments of Pediatrics and Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, aimed to better understand how common anxiety is among women after having a baby.
The researchers conducted interviews with 1,123 mothers in the hospital after they had given birth. Then they followed up with the women two weeks, two months and six months later.
The researchers asked the women about how often they sought health care, how long they breastfed, any anxiety symptoms they experienced and any depression symptoms they had. All the women had planned to breastfeed their babies.
At the start of the study, 192 of the women (17 percent) met the criteria for anxiety and 62 of the women (6 percent) met the criteria for postpartum depression.
Anxiety was more likely among women having their first child, but depression was approximately even across the women regardless of how many children they had. One fifth (20 percent) of the women having their first child met the criteria for anxiety, compared to 15 percent of the women who already had at least one child.
Anxiety was also higher among women who had cesarean sections. The rate of anxiety among women who had C-sections was 22 percent, compared to 15 percent among women who had vaginal deliveries.
Anxiety was also linked to a shorter length of time spent breastfeeding and to the mother's use of unplanned health care within the first two weeks after giving birth. Anxiety was not associated with unexpected health care use for the women's babies.
In general, the researchers found that anxiety was more frequent among the women than postpartum depression, from the time of birth all the way through six months after the babies were born.
The researchers therefore concluded that postpartum anxiety is common and associated with more use of health care and less frequent breastfeeding. They recommended screening women for anxiety after the women give birth.
The study was published March 4 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Maternal Child Health Bureau at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Children's Miracle Network. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.