Behavioral Health

Postpartum anxiety: More common than you think

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As one would with any patient who has situational anxiety, help new mothers find ways to increase their coping skills, reduce stress, and mobilize social supports and family resources. Given the association between sleep disruption and perinatal anxiety, counsel new mothers, especially those at high risk for postpartum anxiety, to prioritize sleep during this vulnerable time. To that end, consider recommending that they ask partners, family members, or friends to help them take care of the infant at night (or during the day). Such nonmedical interventions may be sufficient for women with mild anxiety.

Very few studies have addressed nonpharmacologic management of postpartum anxiety, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to help in managing and treating anxiety disorders outside of pregnancy.28 A few small studies indicate promise for CBT and for mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) during pregnancy.29

A 2016 systematic review of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatment of anxiety in the perinatal period found support for the use of CBT for panic disorder and specific phobias both in pregnancy and postpartum.30 A very small study found that teaching mothers to massage their preterm infants decreased maternal anxiety.31

If the patient is amenable, it is reasonable to start with behavioral interventions like CBT or MBI before pharmacologic treatment—particularly when physicians have mental health professionals embedded in their primary care team.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are considered first-line treatment for moderate to severe anxiety disorders in the perinatal and postnatal period.

Continue to: SSRIs in pregnancy


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