Believe It or Not, Postnatal Anxiety Is More Common Than Postpartum Depression

A new study says doctors may not be paying enough attention to the staggering number of new moms who are suffering from anxiety disorders.

New Mom Anxiety Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock

We hear a lot about the prevalence of postpartum depression among new moms. But according to a new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, postnatal anxiety is an even bigger issue for women with new babies

Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that severe anxiety is actually three to four times more common than depression, both during pregnancy and in early motherhood. The study followed 310 pregnant-women-turned-moms in metro Vancouver from 2007 to 2010, according to the National Post. The women self-reported the state of their mental health, and some women were interviewed.

Sixteen percent of pregnant women, and 17 percent of new moms had diagnosable anxiety disorders. That number may not sound high, but consider this: Just four percent of pregnant women, and five percent of new moms had depression. It's also very important to point out that feeling anxiety does not mean you have a diagnosable condition.

The study points to a very large missed opportunity on the part of women's health care providers, who have been very focused on providing support for women with postpartum depression.

Nichole Fairbrother, a psychologist and this study's leader, explains, "The implication of this finding is that we have a collection of mental health conditions that we're not paying enough attention to. Anxiety disorders cause a huge amount of emotional distress—they compromise quality of life, they're associated with lots of health care cost and they're impairing, so they interfere with the ability to work." She adds that although more research is needed, an anxious mom's relationship with her child may suffer as well.

Fairbrother notes that some women who are being treated for depression may be better served if they were treated for anxiety instead.

So what exactly constitutes a true anxiety disorder? It's more than just worrying about your baby—think about it like postpartum depression versus the baby blues. If you feel a little anxious, then welcome to the emotional roller coaster of motherhood! But if your anxiety is interfering with your daily life, you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or you actually avoid leaving the house due to your fears, you may need some help. And there is nothing wrong with that!

Seek help. Talk to your new mom friends, who will likely understand how you feel. Or talk to your doctor or a therapist. Don't let shame over your anxious feelings keep you from getting help and living a happier, less stressed-out existence!