Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/5/2022
New moms have lots to contend with. From ever-changing recommendations for sleep schedules and crying responses to the complex and frequently evolving directives on feeding, there are plenty of things a mother may worry she’s doing wrong.
It’s enough to cause anxiety in the postpartum period — and make you wonder whether you're a candidate for postpartum anxiety medication.
Postpartum medication is a tricky space for many women, especially those who are breastfeeding. You want to get the help you need, but at the same time, you don’t want to put your newborn at risk for any potential side effects of drinking your breast milk.
So, where do you draw the line? And how do you make choices involving not just your health but also your baby’s?
If you’re wondering what safe options are available to help with anxiety in the postpartum period, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled useful information and tips for navigating this difficult but rewarding time.
Before we get into recommendations, you should first understand some basics about where you are now (the postpartum period) and what could be going on with your mental and biological health.
Let’s dive in.
Postpartum anxiety is an anxiety disorder associated with the postpartum period of pregnancy: the stage after giving birth.
This postpartum mental health condition can involve a variety of symptoms, including disrupted sleep, muscle tension, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, inability to relax, irritability, difficulty focusing and feeling generally “on edge.”
Many moms (and even some non-moms) may immediately point out that these symptoms could simply be a result of looking after a newborn. They could argue it’s perfectly normal for a new parent to lack sleep, feel overwhelmed and not really have time to relax.
And yes, this is all true. But here’s where new motherhood and anxiety diverge: when it’s an anxiety disorder, it’s no longer really because of the baby but rather unhealthy patterns of thought and worry.
The risk of postpartum anxiety varies from mom to mom, and one person’s risk might be higher based on several factors. Any of the following can increase your chance of developing an anxiety disorder during the postpartum period:
Caring for multiple children
Lack of support from a partner, family or larger network
An eating disorder or a history of eating disorders
A newborn or baby with health conditions
A previous loss of a pregnancy
Family history of mood disorders or anxiety
Postpartum anxiety can be related to the stress and life changes associated with a new baby, but it’s not directly caused by those factors. For instance, hormonal shifts following childbirth can affect and alter your mood, thereby increasing your risk of anxiety.
The responsibility to meet the immediate needs of this new life may become so overwhelming that it begins affecting your ability to function as a mom and as a person.
Lack of sleep, struggles with breastfeeding and a neglected self-care routine can all qualify as the kind of physical and mental stress that drives up your risk of anxiety.
If anxiety does occur and begins preventing you from performing basic caretaking tasks for your baby and yourself, you could be facing postpartum anxiety disorder. Medication could be a good solution for treating the condition, but there are a few things to consider first.
Generally speaking, there are various medications for the management of anxiety disorders. But things aren’t so simple when you’re in the postpartum period.
Set aside the hormonal shifts and biological changes you experience during those first weeks postpartum, and you still have to contend with the question of breastfeeding.
Since many medications can be transferred through human breast milk to an infant, several common prescription treatments for mental health conditions should be avoided during this stage.
That said, healthcare providers still recommend varying classes of medications for managing anxiety when treatment is needed.
The following drugs are considered potentially safe, though it’s always good to talk to a healthcare professional about the potential risks before deciding on a course of medication.
Sedatives are a surprisingly safe option for mothers coping with anxiety in the postpartum phase. One of the better options for women seeking relief from postpartum anxiety disorders is a class of sedatives called benzodiazepines, specifically lorazepam.
Lorazepam is an effective anxiolytic medication. It can be used in the short term (typically between one and three months but no more than four). The main concern with ongoing use is dependency.
Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can benefit postpartum women suffering from anxiety. SSRIs fight anxiety by helping the brain better manage its levels of serotonin, a powerful neurotransmitter and mood regulator.
There’s some evidence that these medications pose short-term risks for newborns and infants but not much research on the long-term risks for the mother.
The risks are currently thought to be relatively low based on the amount of medication transferred to an infant through breastfeeding. Still, experts believe further research is needed to confirm long-term safety.
With that said, SSRIs might be an effective medication for your needs, but talking to a healthcare professional is the best way to weigh the potential risks and benefits.
Currently, no medications are approved by the FDA for treating anxiety in the postpartum period. They’re typically only recommended when the benefits are necessary and outweigh the potential risks.
Medication may be an effective treatment for postpartum anxiety. But unless you have a history of mental health disturbances or have previously experienced generalized anxiety disorder, you’re wise to look at other forms of treatment.
Alternative treatment options will depend on your individual physical symptoms and other signs of postpartum anxiety or postnatal anxiety.
There are some effective non-drug treatments. From cognitive-behavioral therapy to interpersonal therapy, these options can help in the short term while providing lifelong benefits.
Mental health specialists may also suggest lifestyle changes or offer other tips for reducing your anxiety. These are best given as advice tailored to your unique circumstances, which is why talking to a healthcare provider is crucial.
As a new mother, you’re up against a lot. The symptoms of postpartum anxiety (if you have it) are among the hundreds of challenges you’ll face each day. While many of these challenges offer rewarding ends, mental disorders like severe anxiety aren’t one of them.
Medication may help, but before diving in, ask questions and explore your options.
A healthcare provider can help both pregnant women and first-time mothers. In addition to anxiety, they screen you for postpartum mood disorders, like postpartum depression, comorbid depression and other depressive disorders, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and other mental health disturbances.
If you’re ready to get help but not sure where to find it, we can assist. Our online therapy platform is a great place to audition therapy professionals until you find one you’re comfortable with. You can also explore medications and drug-free treatments through our mental health resources.