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How to cope with postnatal rage

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Parents home from hospital with newborn baby

Credit: StefaNikolic

How to cope with postnatal rage

The term postnatal rage is, thankfully, gaining visibility.

“Postnatal rage is almost seen as one of the last remaining taboos of parenthood as it occurs during a time when parents feel pressure to only have positive, loving feelings towards their children and family members,” explains Dr Nicole Highet, Founder and Executive Director of Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) .

Mothers and fathers, who report feeling intense, all-consuming rage, tend to feel guilt and shame, and worst of all, not seek support and suffer in silence.

Conversations about postnatal rage have become more common over the past few years with the rise in parents openly discussing their early experiences and challenges on social media platforms.

What is Postnatal Rage?

“Postnatal rage is experienced as intense feelings of anger or frustration after having a baby,” Dr Highet says.

“It can be scary, overwhelming and cause a significant amount of guilt and shame.

“During what we sometimes call the ‘fourth trimester’, anger can be directed towards children, family members (commonly partners) or themselves.”

Dr Highet explains that while anger may be a symptom of postnatal depression, not all women who experience postnatal rage will also meet the criteria for a diagnosis of postnatal depression.

“We also know that anger may be a symptom of postnatal depression in fathers, so it’s equally important for new fathers to be screened for perinatal mental health conditions too,” she adds.

Symptoms of postnatal rage may include:

  • Screaming or swearing more often.
  • Difficulty controlling your temper.
  • Physical expression of anger such as punching or throwing things.
  • Experiencing violent thoughts or urges.
  • Feeling a flood of emotions afterwards, including shame.  

Unfortunately, postnatal rage isn’t screened for in the same way perinatal anxiety and depression is, therefore it’s unclear how many new parents are affected by it.

While the research on postnatal rage is slim, one recent study found that mothers became angry when they had violated expectations, their needs were compromised or they felt on edge (for example: exhausted, stressed and resentful), particularly around infants’ sleep.

The study found half of women experienced anger in relation to sleep difficulties.

“If you are concerned about feelings of anger, it’s important to speak to your doctor or health professional,” Dr Highet advises.

“It’s possible you may be experiencing parental burnout, postnatal depression  and/or anxiety, so it’s important to be assessed for these conditions and referred to appropriate support and treatment.”

COPE has developed an eCOPE directory where parents can search for professionals with perinatal expertise.

Strategies to manage postnatal rage

Parents with postnatal rage symptoms need to remember that they are not alone in their experience. 

“Rage can be a common part of early parenthood, particularly with sleep-deprivation and coping with the challenges of becoming a parent,” says Dr Highet.

“It’s important to not underestimate the impact of sleep-deprivation and hormonal fluctuations on your ability to cope.” 

It is also important to remember that it’s okay for children to see their parents expressing their feelings, that parents are human and that we can also ‘lose it’ at times. 

After all, it gives them permission to not only do the same, but not suffer any guilt for experiencing those emotions. 

“Consider journalling to keep track of what can potentially trigger you,” Dr Highet recommends. 

“It can be useful to understand patterns and help determine where you might need additional support.”

Another strategy is to know when to ask for help, hold firm on your boundaries and lower your expectations. 

“If you know that your baby’s crying will set you off, ask for help from your partner, friend or family member while you catch your breath,” Dr Highet says. 

“Equally, if it’s too much pressure to have visitors, say ‘no’.

“And lowering your expectations of housework or keeping the to-do list to the bare minimum can help to lower feeling overwhelmed.”

When the rage does take hold, it’s advised to try to slow your breathing by breathing in for two seconds and out for four seconds until your heart rate slows down. 

COPE  has developed resources and support tools so parents with postnatal rage can access free, online help. 

How to support a partner or friend with postnatal rage symptoms

As a support person, Dr Highet advises encouraging your partner, friend or family member with postnatal rage to seek medical support by speaking to a GP or health professional. 

“Practical support, like taking the older children to a playground, or watching the baby while the parent showers, can be really beneficial,” she adds.

She also recommends ensuring the parent has time for themselves, especially if they are becoming distressed. 

“Look after the baby while they do something that is purely for themselves, whether that is going for a run, listening to music or talking to a friend,” she says. 

“Also, if they are feeling distressed and you aren’t physically there with them, encourage them to place the baby somewhere safe, like a cot, and take five minutes for themselves.”

Finally, encourage them to build a support network around them. 

They can do this by connecting with other new parents in a similar stage of parenthood, either face to face, or via COPE’s Mama Tribe which has local face-to-face or online catch ups with other mothers. 

“It can be helpful finding women who are experiencing similar challenges, and to be able to discuss these in a safe and non-judgmental space,” Dr Highet says.

Ready to COPE is another resource parents can use to receive free, timely support and information through the first year of parenthood.