All mothers feel worried when they first bring home helpless little creatures, who relies on them for everything. Worries can span the spectrum from “How do I get that tiny head into this sweater?” to “What if she is not eating enough?” to “Will I ever sleep?” It is not the worry itself that usually distinguishes expected maternal worries from what would be diagnosed as Postpartum Anxiety; it is what the mother does when she experiences these worries. If the anxiety is severe enough to impair the mother’s functioning, as in the actions she needs to take to relieve the anxiety prevent her from being able to provide well-rounded care for the infant and herself, the mother should reach out for help. For example, most mothers have a passing fear that the baby will stop breathing while he or she sleeps. Thus, sometimes when the baby sleeps for an unusually long time, the mother may lean down to check that the baby is breathing. This thought and this reaction are common and appropriate. This mother is able to check on the baby without disturbing his/her sleep, and after checking, is able to go back to what she was doing. However, if the mother can think of little else than the fact that the baby will stop breathing, cannot lay the baby down to sleep due to this fear thus preventing the baby from getting the sleep he or she needs, and the mother is never able to get a break herself since she needs to constantly monitor the baby’s breathing, then this mother would benefit from reaching out for help.
With that being said, motherhood is difficult and full of things to worry about. Therefore, even mothers who do not meet clinical criteria for Postpartum Anxiety can benefit from learning techniques taught to people with diagnosed anxiety, such as breathing techniques, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. Moreover, learning how to keep anxiety at appropriate levels by learning what to say to yourself when anxiety rises can make any mother’s journey through motherhood easier. As the saying goes, “Worrying about things that may not happen is like paying interest on money you may never borrow.” Thus, learning to focus on only the problems at hand instead of worrying about all of the possible things that can go wrong will help even those mothers experiencing “normal worries” to keep calmer.