Postpartum Rage: The Unspoken Emotion of New Motherhood

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When you picture the postpartum period, you might think of diaper commercials with mom wrapped in a cozy blanket on the couch, cuddling her calm and happy newborn.

But women who have experienced the fourth trimester in real life know better. Sure, there are many sweet moments, but the reality is, finding peace can be tough.

In fact, as many as 22 percent of women will experience a postpartum mood disorder more serious than the baby blues. (Read more about what causes postpartum mood disorders here).

Maybe you’ve heard about postpartum depression and anxiety, but what about when your symptoms reflect anger more than sadness?

Some new moms feel mad more often than they feel sad, lethargic, or anxious. For these moms, postpartum rage may be the cause of intense anger, outbursts, and shame in the first year of their baby’s life. Fortunately, if this describes you, know you’re not alone and there are ways to get better

What are the symptoms of postpartum rage?

Postpartum rage differs from person to person, and can vary a lot based on your situation. Many women describe times when they physically or verbally lash out over something that otherwise wouldn’t bother them.

According to Lisa Tremayne, RN, PMH-C, founder of The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness and director of the Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Center at Monmouth Medical Center in New Jersey, symptoms of postpartum rage can include:

  • struggling to control your temper
  • increased amount of screaming or swearing
  • physical expressions like punching or throwing things
  • violent thoughts or urges, perhaps directed at your spouse or other family members
  • dwelling on something that made you upset
  • being unable to “snap out of it” on your own
  • feeling a flood of emotions immediately afterwards

Author Molly Caro May details her experience with postpartum rage in her book, “Body Full of Stars,” as well as in an article she wrote for Working Mother. She describes being an otherwise rational person who found herself throwing things, slamming doors, and snapping at others: “…rage, which falls under that [postpartum depression] umbrella, is its own beast… For me, it’s easier to let the beast roar than to let it weep.”

What is the treatment for postpartum rage?

Since postpartum rage and postpartum depression show up differently for everyone, it’s best to talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment for you. Tremayne says there are three important treatment options to consider:

  • Support. “Online or in person peer support groups are so important for mom to have her feelings validated and realize she is not alone.”
  • Therapy. “Learning coping strategies to deal with her feelings and behavior can help.”
  • Medication. “Sometimes medication is needed for a temporary period of time. While mom is doing all the other work of processing her feelings, medication often helps with her overall state of mind.”

It can help to keep a journal of each episode. Note what may have triggered your rage. Then, look back at what you wrote. Do you notice a clear pattern of circumstances when your rage appears?

For example, maybe you act out when your partner talks about how tired they feel after you were awake all night with the baby. By recognizing the trigger, you will be better able to talk about how you feel.

Lifestyle changes may also help you feel better. Try following a healthy diet, exercising, meditation, and intentional time to yourself. When you start to feel better, it will be easier to notice what triggers your rage.

Then, report back to your doctor. Every symptom provides a clue for treatment, even if they don’t feel important at the time.

How long does postpartum anger last?

Answering the question “When will I feel back to my old self again?” can be very difficult. There is no cut-and-dry answer. Your experience will depend largely on what else is going on in your life.

Additional risk factors may increase the length of time you experience postpartum mood disorders. These include:

  • other mental illness or a history of depression
  • breastfeeding difficulties
  • parenting a child with medical or developmental challenges
  • a stressful, complicated, or traumatic delivery
  • insufficient support or lack of help
  • difficult lifestyle changes during the postpartum period like death or job loss
  • previous episodes of postpartum mood disorders

Even though there’s no specific timeline for recovery, remember that all postpartum mood disorders are temporary. “The sooner you get the right help and treatment, the sooner you will feel better,” says Tremayne. Seeking treatment sooner rather than later will get you on the road to recovery.

What to do if you don’t feel seen

If you are experiencing postpartum rage, know that you are not alone. Postpartum rage isn’t an official diagnosis in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that therapists use to diagnose mood disorders. However, it’s a common symptom.

Women who feel postpartum rage may have postpartum depression or anxiety, which are considered perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). These disorders fall under the “major depressive disorder with peripartum onset” description in the DSM-5.

“Postpartum rage is part of the PMAD spectrum,” says Tremayne. “Women are often completely shocked at themselves when acting out in rage, because it was not a normal behavior previously.”

Anger is sometimes overlooked when diagnosing a woman with a postpartum mood disorder. One 2018 study from the University of British Columbia noted that women need to be screened specifically for anger, which hasn’t been done in the past.

The study states that women are often discouraged from expressing anger. That may explain why women aren’t always screened for postpartum rage. However, it’s important to know that anger is actually very normal in the postpartum period.

“Rage is one of the most common symptoms we hear about,” says Tremayne. “Often women feel an additional level of shame in admitting these feelings, which makes them feel unsafe in seeking treatment. It prevents them from getting the support they need.”

Feeling intense rage is a sign that you may have a postpartum mood disorder. Know you’re not alone in your feelings, and help is available. If your current OB-GYN doesn’t seem to acknowledge your symptoms, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral to a mental health professional.

Help for postpartum mood disorders
  • Postpartum Support International (PSI) offers a phone crisis line (800-944-4773) and text support (503-894-9453), as well as referrals to local providers.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has free 24/7 helplines available for people in a crisis who may be considering taking their lives. Call 800-273-8255 or text “HELLO” to 741741.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a resource that has both a phone crisis line (800-950-6264) and a text crisis line (“NAMI” to 741741) for anyone who needs immediate assistance.
  • Motherhood Understood is an online community started by a postpartum depression survivor offering electronic resources and group discussions via mobile app.
  • The Mom Support Group offers free peer-to-peer support on Zoom calls led by trained facilitators.
  • Takeaway

    It’s normal to have some frustration during a tough transition like having a new baby. Still, postpartum rage is more intense than standard anger.

    If you find yourself filled with rage over small things, start journaling your symptoms to identify triggers. If your symptoms are severe, talk to your doctor. Know that postpartum rage is normal and can be treated.

    It’s important to remember that this, too, will pass. Acknowledge what you feel and try not to let guilt prevent you from seeking help. Postpartum anger deserves treatment just like any other perinatal mood disorder. With proper support, you will feel like yourself again.

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