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Anxiety and parenthood

6-minute read

If you are extremely distressed or having suicidal thoughts call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for immediate support.

Key facts

  • Anxiety that develops during the year your baby is born is known as postnatal anxiety. Any parent can experience postnatal anxiety.
  • Feeling a little stressed is a common reaction to becoming a parent, but if anxiety becomes a problem, you may need professional help.
  • Symptoms include intense feelings of worry that you’re not doing things right, or that something bad will happen.
  • If you have postnatal anxiety, it can affect your ability to be the best parent you can be. Seek support from your GP, or another member of your health team so you can get back to enjoying your new baby with less worry.

It’s natural to feel a little anxious when a new baby arrives. For some people, anxiety can become a real problem and they may need professional help. Postnatal anxiety can happen to any parent. There is plenty of support available, and the first step is to recognise the signs.

What is postnatal anxiety?

Anxiety is more than feeling stressed about a specific situation. It occurs when feelings of being anxious and stressed won’t go away, can’t be controlled easily and happen without a particular reason.

Anxiety that develops during the year after birth is called postnatal anxiety. Like postnatal depression, it’s very common and affects up to 1 in 10 new parents.

If you have postnatal anxiety, you may experience symptoms of one or more of these disorders in the year after your baby is born:

  • In generalised anxiety, a person feels anxious on most days.
  • In panic disorder, a person has panic attacks. These involve attacks of overwhelming anxiety that may also include physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness.
  • Agoraphobia refers to an intense fear of open or public spaces.
  • In obsessive-compulsive disorder, a person feels an intense need to carry out certain behaviours or rituals.
  • In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a person’s anxiety relates to a past traumatic event. The person may have bad dreams, vivid flashbacks and find it hard to relax.
  • In social phobia, a person may feel intensely worried about being criticised or humiliated in public.

If you already have an anxiety disorder, you are at greater risk of developing postnatal anxiety.

How do I know if I have postnatal anxiety?

You may have postnatal anxiety if you’re a new parent and you:

  • are overwhelmed by feelings of fear and worry
  • feel irritable, restless or on edge
  • are constantly worried you’re not doing things right
  • are constantly worried that something bad will happen
  • can’t sleep, even when you baby is asleep
  • have visions of something terrible happening to your baby

What’s the difference between postnatal anxiety and postnatal depression?

Many people with postnatal anxiety will also have postnatal depression at the same time. Postnatal depression involves having a low mood (or 'feeling down') for more than 2 weeks. You might also lose interest in normal activities, feel sad and hopeless, find it hard to concentrate and not be able to eat or sleep normally.

Both anxiety and depression are more common after the birth of a baby. Combined with the normal challenges of lack of sleep and feeling overwhelmed as a new parent, you might feel unable to cope. It’s important to seek help as quickly as possible so you can get back to enjoying your new baby.

How is postnatal anxiety diagnosed?

If you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor, midwife or child health care nurse. They may ask about your feelings, give you a questionnaire to complete and ask to speak to your partner, if you have one. They may also do a physical examination.

Try to be as honest as you can — this will make it easier for your doctor or nurse to give you the treatment and support you need. Remember, postnatal anxiety and depression are extremely common, and there are ways to help you. There’s no need to feel ashamed.

How is postnatal anxiety treated?

If your anxiety is mild, it may be enough for you to get more support from your doctor or child healthcare nurse.

More severe anxiety may need treatment with psychological therapies and, sometimes, medicines. Your doctor will discuss with you any implications for your baby and whether the medicine will affect breastfeeding.

Having postnatal anxiety can affect your ability to be the best parent you can be. Professional treatment will help you get you the support you need so you can get back to enjoying your new baby.

Where can I go for advice and support?

  • Talk to your partner, or someone else you trust.
  • Ask your GP, midwife or child healthcare nurse for advice.
  • Call one of these support services:
    • PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) — 1300 726 306
    • ForWhen — 1300 24 23 22 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 4.30pm)
    • Gidget Foundation, online and telehealth support — 1300 851 758
    • Beyond Blue — 1300 22 4636

If you are extremely distressed or having suicidal thoughts call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for immediate support.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022

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