Postnatal rage is a symptom of postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA) many new mamas aren’t aware of.
New mamas are more informed than ever about signs of PNDA to look out for. PNDA has many traits, some of them include overwhelming sadness, changes to appetite, difficulties bonding with your baby, panic attacks or obsessive thoughts.
In the first check up after giving birth, your doctor, midwife or maternal health nurse may ask if you’ve been experiencing any of these signs in the months after giving birth.
But there is one symptom of postnatal mood disorders that no one is asking you about: postnatal rage. This is an overwhelming anger that is so intense it feels like more than anger.
And the worst part? Women are suffering in silence because they don’t believe they should feel this way or are afraid of being judged as a bad parent.
What is postnatal rage?
Around 1 in 7 new mums develop a mood disorder called postnatal depression and/or anxiety (PNDA) after they give birth. This condition is more serious and lasts longer than the baby blues that typically happen in the first few days after birth but disappear within a week.
New research shows women who experience PNDA are more likely to experience anger as well as the other expected symptoms. Yet anger as a symptom of PNDA isn’t included in standard screening tests for postnatal mood disorders.
As a result, until now anger has been missed as a sign of postnatal mood disorders and mamas are left trying to deal with intense feelings of anger, betrayal and explosive rage.
What causes postnatal rage?
When we think of new motherhood, being angry isn’t an emotion we associate with that picture of blissful baby snuggles.
Unfortunately, few mothers are prepared for the challenges of becoming a parent. Many of us aren’t properly supported in this transition, with too many unrealistic expectations placed on us being able to ‘cope.’
Many women start motherhood feeling helpless or trapped as they take on the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, often at the expense of their own needs. New mamas might be mourning a pause in career, coping with the full demands of a household, without family or friends to offer support.
Anger can be a response to feeling let down by partners, family or health care providers. It’s also common for new mothers to feel they’ve lost a part of themselves, especially if others are going on with life as before.
If health issues have occurred after birth, the birth was traumatic, or if they can’t meet an expectation they had (such as breastfeeding), these feelings of failure or guilt can come up as anger.
Anger is more than just a feeling at that moment. It’s the visible red flag of what is going on underneath, masking deeper feelings such as fear, anxiety or grief. It might seem on the surface your anger is irrational but it is a distress signal—a red flag something else is going on that needs attention.
What are the signs?
In the few months after giving birth to my third child, I found myself constantly on the edge of white-hot rage.
My responses to anything even slightly negative were irrational, even frightening. A driver cutting me off on the road, a person walking slowly in front of me at the supermarket, even the sound of my partner’s breathing when he was sleeping.
The anger I would feel was all consuming, overwhelming and something out of my control. Which was even more frightening. After the rage passed, I felt extreme shame, guilt and regret. I worried that I’d say or do something I’d regret and I was afraid of my children witnessing this frightening version of their mother.
How do I deal with postnatal rage?
If you’re constantly flying off the handle over big and small things after the birth of your baby, then a good place to start is whether you have other symptoms of postnatal depression or anxiety.
PANDA has a checklist for new mums that can help you decide if you need further support.
If you do have signs of PNDA, or you’re unsure, it’s important to reach out for help. Your doctor, midwife or maternal health nurse is a good place to start. While PNDA is common, if it’s not treated it can become severe, affecting your ability to care for yourself and your baby.
It can help to keep track of your episodes of rage. Often what causes the rage to explode out of you is simply the tipping point.
- Where you were
- What was happening before
- Who is around you at the time or earlier
- How tired were you
- What time of day are the episodes most likely to happen?
If you notice particular triggers it can help you to identify the underlying issues that aren’t being dealt with and are contributing to your anger.
Treatment for PNDA comes in many forms, such as counseling, support therapies, medication, etc. The path of treatment you choose will depend on your situation.
Support from family and friends is vitally important. You may wish to find a postnatal doula to step in and provide respite from some of the things that triggering your deeper feelings. There are also natural treatments you can access to bring a deep and powerful connection back into your life, under the guidance of an experienced therapist.
So if you’re a new mum and feeling angry, take a deep breath and know you’re not alone. Many women experience anger after giving birth. Seek support from your care provider.
Nurtured Birth offers support for new mamas having difficulty in the transition to motherhood, through postnatal doula support, massage therapy and naturopathy. Contact us for more information.
If you or anyone you know needs help call the PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Fri, 9 am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT) 1300 726 306.
Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth