• Mind + Mom + Baby

Perfectionism and Postpartum Anxiety: How to Understand the Link

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

The quest for perfection as a new mom is an impossible task. Most don't realize how it can also lead to depression and anxiety.

Many new mothers struggle with postpartum depression (PPD). A number of new mothers also deal with symptoms of postpartum anxiety (PPA) after giving birth. Unfortunately, some women are at a greater risk of experiencing this than others.


If you have a perfectionist personality, for example, you could have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression or anxiety. Yet, how are the two connected, and what can you do about it?


Let’s find out.


How Perfectionism Leads to Anxiety

Firstly, it’s important to recognize that perfectionists often have higher levels of anxiety to begin with. When you have a baby, however, it can feel like your anxiety levels shoot through the roof.


There are so many things to consider from a perfectionist standpoint—wearing makeup and looking your best when going to your first postpartum doctor’s appointment, keeping the baby on a specific schedule, dressing your baby in cute outfits daily, or keeping up with the house work. A simple visit from friends to meet your new baby can lead to levels of anxiety never before experienced.


The fact is that it’s extremely hard for everything to be perfect when you’re a new mother. Even if you have all the support in the world, it’s often a time of learning and controlled chaos. Your baby won’t get the memo right away about having a regular sleep schedule, for example. In short, accidents will happen and messes will be made.


Unfortunately, those factors that are totally out of your control will make it even easier for your symptoms of anxiety to flare up.


Signs of Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum anxiety is often referred to as a “hidden disorder.” It’s different from PPD. You may have postpartum anxiety without feeling depressed at all.


Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Hot flashes

  • Dizziness

  • Changes in sleeping/eating habits

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Trouble focusing

Another difference between postpartum anxiety and depression is that many women start to feel the effects of anxiety during their pregnancy.


For a perfectionist, these feelings can be amplified by things like wanting your birth plan to be flawless, or wanting the nursery to be perfectly set up, etc.


You might also have worries about how others take care of your baby when you’re unavailable. If you feel like no one else can hold them or feed them as well as you, for example, your anxiety levels will skyrocket.


Some worry and hesitation is normal with a new baby. But, when those worries and fears start to take over your life and feel paralyzing, there is something more going on.


The Return to Work

Many new moms with postpartum anxiety also struggle when returning to work after maternity leave. You may find you are not able to complete tasks as quickly or as thoroughly as you did before. And you may find your mind wandering more and your attention divided.


You may also feel more tired than usual and have less energy, which also impacts productivity. If you were once career focused and climbing through the ranks, this can be very concerning. You may be thinking you made a mistake having children and that you have derailed your career. These feelings can be very intense and even paralyzing.


It is important though to keep these thoughts in check and in perspective. For example, stop and think of all the hugely successful women throughout nearly every industry who have older or grown children and be reminded that they did it somehow and so will you. Your dip in productivity or lack of focus currently will likely pass with time and with professional treatment, is likely to pass even more quickly.


Also, keep in mind that if you are a true perfectionist, you likely have much high standards of yourself than others have for you. So if you are barely meeting your own standards, chances are good you are still exceeding the expectations of your peers and boss.


How to Treat PPA

Postpartum anxiety doesn’t always just go away on its own. It can last for a long time and may even become worse, especially if you have a perfectionist personality.


One of the best things you can do is to talk to your doctor or OB/GYN about how you’re feeling. They might be able to give you some options. But, many doctors will end up referring their patients to a licensed therapist.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular treatment option for women suffering from postpartum anxiety. A therapist can also help you with different relaxation techniques to help settle your mind. These techniques will help you not to feel overwhelmed with worry so much of the time and will help you evaluate your situation from a difference perspective. When one suffers with depression or anxiety, their thought processing is skewed and out of balance. Therapy can help you to regain balance and control.


You might always have perfectionistic tendencies. There are some things, though, that you’ll need to be able to let go of to get past your anxiety.


To learn more about how counseling can help you during the postpartum months, please click here.


If you’ve recently had a baby and you’ve been feeling “off” ever since, don’t wait any longer to find relief. You deserve better and so does your child. I offer a complimentary phone consultation to all potential clients. To schedule yours in a matter of seconds, please check here.


Together, we can get to the root of your anxiety, and go over ways you can manage your symptoms through this new life change.

COMING SOON! A workshop for couples who are thinking about or planning to have a baby, who are expecting a baby or who have children already. Based on years of research and experience and developed by the Gottman Institute, this 12 hour workshop is designed to repair communication skills and jump start your relationship with your partner. For more information, please click here.

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Jennifer Perera is a mom, spouse and Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over a decade’s worth of experience in mental health. She has a private practice in New Jersey, with locations in Cranford and Princeton. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual, group and couples counseling. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with a pregnancy loss or infertility. Her other passion is travelling to different parts of the world and her goal is to vacation in a different locale every time. She also has a great fondness for cats!

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