I vividly remember, when my youngest was about 5 months old, I was screaming at my 4-year-old because she spilled something on the floor. It was then that my husband’s patience with my postpartum rage wore out, he stopped sugar-coating things and told me that going to therapy was no longer a suggestion, it was a condition. I was so infuriated that I stormed off, packed my suitcase, and got a hotel room, where I spent the night crying because I had reached a point where no one wanted to live with me—and I hated myself for it. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to keep my cool, my anger was uncontrollable, and I had no idea why it was happening.
While my circumstances were unique, my situation wasn’t. Postpartum rage is not uncommon, but unlike postpartum mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s not talked about nearly enough. Because of this, new moms who are experiencing this anger can feel isolated, scared, and carry far more guilt than they should.
What Is Postpartum Rage?
“Postpartum rage is a condition in which a new mother feels periods (or bursts) of extreme anger, irritability, and explosiveness,” maternal mental health counselor Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, tells Romper in an email. The frequency of these outbursts can vary, but when they occur they’re often uncharacteristic and leave new moms feeling out of control and wondering, “why am I so angry at my husband or partner after having a baby?”
While postpartum rage is a lesser-known behavior, Brunner says it’s actually very common in new mothers, particularly because it can be caused by a number of factors, some of which every new parent experiences.
What Causes Postpartum Rage?
According to Brunner, postpartum rage is a fairly well-known symptom of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum bipolar disorder. In an email to Romper, psychiatrist Kristin Yeung Lasseter, MD, says postpartum rage can also be a symptom of postpartum PTSD, but at this point, it’s not considered a standalone disorder.
That being said, a new mom doesn’t have to be suffering from any of these mood disorders in order to experience postpartum rage. “So far, research suggests that postpartum rage can come from multiple factors,” Dr. Lasseter says, “including reproductive hormone changes, sleep deprivation, poor support, and major life changes postpartum.” She further explains that these factors individually can cause changes in the brain that make emotional regulation difficult, so when a new mom is experiencing them all at once, “it makes for a perfect storm.”
Other factors Brunner notes could contribute to postpartum rage include a birth experience that didn’t go according to plan, a baby born needing special care in the hospital, such as a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), or born with a condition that requires extra care at home. Finally, she says moms who feel pressured to get everything right or whose family is crowding her or not showing up for her at all can also result in extreme anger and irritability.
Postpartum Depression & Rage
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that while 80% of new moms experience the short-term “baby blues,” about 13% are diagnosed with postpartum depression (though, that estimate may be low, as many women go without reporting their symptoms and treatment). The symptoms can start within a week of delivery, but sometimes they start as early as the third trimester or even a month or later after delivery. Regardless of when the symptoms start, postpartum depression and rage often go hand-in-hand, so ignoring all of the other triggers of postpartum rage, this statistic alone shows just how common this behavior is.
Postpartum Anxiety & Rage
Brunner notes that the general struggle of losing the normal control, predictability, and consistency of everyday life after the arrival of a baby is often enough to trigger postpartum rage. Since new moms with postpartum anxiety experience these same symptoms, only with more intensity, it’s no wonder why rage is a common symptom of the mood disorder. Looking at data from The Journal of Nurse Practitioners, between 11% and 21% of new moms in the U.S. are diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, which once again highlights how many new moms might also be struggling with the symptom of rage.
How Long Can Postpartum Rage Last?
Given the many factors that can contribute to postpartum rage, it’s hard to say exactly how long a new mom can expect to experience it. New moms may notice a decrease in outbursts once their baby starts sleeping through the night or after they’ve developed a predictable routine and feel more confident in their new role.
However, if the postpartum rage is a symptom of another postpartum mood disorder it could last for months or possibly, in severe cases, even years. For example, postpartum depression can last throughout a baby’s first year of life, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if a mom who was diagnosed with postpartum depression is still experiencing symptoms of postpartum rage 6 months after her baby was born.
That being said, if the rage is a symptom of another postpartum mood disorder, there are treatment options available. If the behavior is the result of an outside factor, new moms may find it easier to control and manage with the help of a counselor.
How to Deal with Postpartum Rage
When to seek help for postpartum rage
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for how to overcome postpartum rage, but getting professional help can significantly help. “Parents should most definitely seek help for postpartum rage when it is causing them distress, is impairing their ability to go about daily life as usual or is negatively impacting their relationship with others,” says Dr. Lasseter. Additionally, if the anger isn’t subsiding or it’s being accompanied by disturbing thoughts or feelings, Brunner suggests getting help “without delay.”
Treatment for postpartum rage
According to Brunner, treatment for postpartum rage has a few different looks. First, antidepressants and antianxiety medications are often prescribed to new moms suffering from postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, and these medications are meant to manage the symptoms of these mood disorders, so they may help with rage. Non-medication treatment usually comes in the form of talk therapy and self-care.
It’s important to remember that, even though it’s not openly discussed nearly enough, postpartum rage is common. It’s also not a reflection on someone’s ability to be a mother. “Postpartum rage is not caused by being a bad mother or parent,” says Dr. Lasseter, “Oftentimes people feel a lot of guilt when they have postpartum rage, but it’s not a symptom someone chooses to get.” Rather, she says, it’s the body’s way of letting you know something is wrong and that it needs to be taken care of. So, if you’re experiencing frequent bouts of rage, regularly lashing out at the people you love, and/or living every day with a short fuse, it’s okay, and there is help.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in relationships, pre and post-baby support, and perinatal mental health.
Kristin Yeung Lasseter, MD, Founder and President of Reproductive Physichiatry Clinic of Austin, Board Member of the International Society of Reproductive Psychiatry, Secretary of the Austin Psychiatric Society, and Affiliate Faculty and the UT Dell Medical School, Department of Psychiatry