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We need to talk about postpartum rage—and why it happens

As a therapist who does a lot of work with new moms, I am thrilled that awareness is rising about postpartum depression. Women are more informed than ever about what to be on the lookout for after baby arrives: sadness that lasts beyond the first two weeks, difficulty sleeping when baby is sleeping, intrusive thoughts, excessive crying and trouble bonding with baby, just to name a few symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.

But there is one symptom that still receives very little attention: postpartum rage.

What on earth am I talking about when I say “postpartum rage”? I’m talking about overwhelming anger. Anger that is so intense it feels like it shouldn’t even be called just “anger.” The kind that sneaks up on you and before you know it, you are exploding.

It may be prompted by a seemingly minor annoyance—a load of dishes that your partner forgot to start the night before, leaving you without a clean coffee mug in the morning, or a red light when you’re trying to get home with a crying baby in the backseat. Or it may bubble up out of nowhere—your mom calls to ask how your day is going and suddenly you’re screaming about the awful night before and your certainty that tonight will be even worse.

Postpartum rage can be quite unsettling for women struggling with it. One thing that can be helpful is to understand a bit about where the anger is coming from.

To start with, I generally tell moms that I don’t believe that anger is a feeling. I know as a therapist that’s kind of a weird thing for me to say, but let me explain. I believe that anger is a sign post, a big old red flag alerting us to a difficult feeling. A feeling that we really, really don’t want to feel or deal with, so we push it away and “feel” anger instead. The more intense the anger, the more intense the underlying feeling.

In the case of postpartum rage, I often find that the anger is alerting us to feelings of being overwhelmed, resentment at not being appreciated or acknowledged by those close to us, isolation from our usual social supports, uncertainty about acclimating to our new life as a mom, and guilt related to our perceived failures in mothering.

Whatever prompts it to appear, postpartum rage generally comes with a sense of being out of control of your anger. It just doesn’t feel like you, but you feel powerless to control it. In fact, you’ve tried to get a handle on it and you just can’t. No amount of deep breathing is getting you out of this one.

So what can you do?

First, you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. This is actually a rather common symptom of postpartum depression and anxiety, but one that very few women talk about. It seems safer to talk about the feelings of sadness than the acts of anger. Everyone expects a new mom to be weepy and overwhelmed. They don’t typically expect her to drop f-bombs and scream when things don’t go as planned. So even though you may not have heard of other moms struggling with postpartum rage, let me assure you they are out there. Lots of them.

Next, it’s important to assess if you have other symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety. If you do, or you’re unsure if you do, it’s important to reach out for help. You don’t need to suffer through this alone. Your OB, midwife, primary care physician or therapist would all be great places to start exploring options.

It can also be helpful to begin tracking your episodes of postpartum rage. Where were you? What was happening? Who were you with? What time of day? How tired were you? How were you feeling? If you can begin to notice a pattern, or situations that tend to bring out the rage, it can help to clue you in to what the underlying issues are that are being expressed in your anger.

I also encourage all new moms suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, but particularly those with postpartum rage, to find ways to reconnect with their bodies so that they can start to become attuned again to the messages our bodies send us about our needs.

Our bodies are remarkably skilled at telling us what’s going on. Muscle tension alerts us to stress we had overlooked. Increased heart rate can tell us that a situation is starting to get overwhelming for us. A general feeling of weariness clues us in that it’s time to prioritize rest.

But in the craziness of new motherhood, we often lose touch with ourselves and therefore we miss out on these important signals. If you can get in touch with these signals, they can help give you notice that you’re getting stressed so you can employ coping skills—and ask for help!— to get back on track before things get too overwhelming.

Bottom line: postpartum rage affects many, many, many new moms. You are not the only one out there losing her you-know-what on a regular basis. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or something you just have to deal with. There are lots of treatment options if you’re able to take that first step and let someone know you’re struggling. Reaching out is scary, but it’s worth it.

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