Perinatal psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Emerick discusses postpartum rage, how to recognize it and what to do if you are experiencing symptoms.
Most soon-to-be mothers imagine the transition to motherhood will include overwhelming love for their newborn and a deep sense of peace and fulfillment. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many new moms. In fact, new moms commonly describe an increase in anger and irritability after childbirth. This anger, termed “postpartum rage,” is becoming both a recognized symptom of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, as well as an indication that a mom is undersupported.
What exactly is postpartum rage?
Postpartum rage is a mood disruption that causes intense anger, aggression and agitation in the weeks and months after a person gives birth. A new mom experiencing postpartum rage may be easily frustrated, feel like they hate their partner, lose their temper or yell more often than before they were pregnant. It is often a symptom of postpartum depression or anxiety.
Does postpartum rage mean I’m depressed?
While postpartum rage is often a symptom of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, such as postpartum depression, it is always a sign that a mom is overburdened and undersupported. New moms face a huge amount of stress; there is suddenly a shift in who you are, there are new demands on your time and there are high societal expectations. You are supposed to be a perfect wife, mother, employee, friend and family member, all while healing from a major body trauma and being intensely sleep deprived. In the face of this stress, moms often receive limited support from communities or their partners. Mothers don’t always have someone to share the new burdens of knowing when the pediatrician appointments are, researching daycare facilities or knowing what size clothes the baby is wearing. So, while postpartum rage can be a sign of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, it is also a response to an overwhelming increase in responsibilities without adequate support.
What can I do if I think I might be experiencing postpartum rage?
As a perinatal psychiatrist, one of the first things I encourage my patients to do is extend to themselves some compassion and grace. I remind them that irritability isn’t a character flaw. It’s a check engine light that means something needs to be addressed. I also recommend getting in touch with your health care provider so you can be screened for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. If your anger is a symptom of a mood or anxiety disorder, there are many options for treatment including therapy and medications. The last recommendation I have is to increase support, something I always recommend for postpartum anger. Joining a support group, babysitter swapping, learning how to ask your partner for help, setting boundaries, developing a self-care plan, and connecting with the federal government’s Woman, Infants, and Children program (or local diaper banks, if needed) are all helpful steps. No one can do it all on their own, and postpartum rage is a sign from your body that you have done as much as you can. Now, it is time for some help.
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