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Postpartum Rage: What’s Normal—and When to Seek Support

Sudden bursts of anger can be common among new parents. Here’s how to cope.
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Published June 14, 2024
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Postpartum rage is a common yet isolating experience for many new parents. That said, in a culture where moms are expected to be eternally calm and collected—even amid sleep deprivation and chaos—moments of rage can feel worrisome or even shame-inducing. The reality is: postpartum rage is our body’s way of alerting us to the fact that our needs aren’t being met. Moreover, it can be an invitation to find more sustainable coping mechanisms. Read on as we demystify postpartum rage symptoms, causes and treatment, and share some practical ways to defuse and decompress.

What Is Postpartum Rage?

Postpartum rage is an unsettling but relatively normal reaction to the challenges of early motherhood. In the newborn days, you’re sleep-deprived and caring for a new baby around the clock, so moments of rage seem almost inevitable. Lauren Hays, PMHNP, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and co-founder of The Matrescence, an app and private community offering postpartum education for moms, defines postpartum rage as “intense anger and irritability that can occur in the postpartum period.” While it’s common and understandable, Hays says it’s a symptom to take seriously. It’s sometimes overlooked in postpartum screenings, but can be a signal of a mental health condition.

Postpartum Rage vs. Postpartum Depression

“Although irritability is a common sign of postpartum depression (PPD), someone can have postpartum rage without depression,” says Jill Zechowy, MD, MS, a perinatal mental health physician specializing in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and the author of Motherhood Survival Manual: Your Prenatal Guide to Prevent Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. “Postnatal or postpartum depression is a diagnosis of lowered mood, sense of hopelessness, overwhelm, trouble sleeping and feelings of failure,” Zechowy explains. PPD is generally ongoing, whereas postpartum rage typically presents as short-lived bouts, adds Rachel Goldberg, MS, LMFT, a postpartum specialist and therapist in Studio City, California. That said, the two can go hand in hand, and postpartum rage can often coexist with postpartum depression.

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What Causes Postpartum Rage?

Postpartum rage is one of our body’s loudest alarm bells, and it alerts us to the fact that we have nothing left to give. Zechowy asserts that postpartum rage “is caused by the sudden massive increase in life responsibilities that occur postpartum, all while healing from birth and dealing with a lack of sleep and insufficient support.” Of course, the sudden change in hormones after birth can also play a part in contributing to postpartum rage, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Postpartum Rage Symptoms

Moms experiencing postpartum rage can find themselves thinking, saying or doing things that are out of character. Often, they feel overcome with shame, guilt and fear after a rage reaction; it can make a new mom think they’re failing at parenting. According to Goldberg, “Symptoms of postpartum rage include an unexpected and quick reaction of intense anger that most notably feels beyond the mother’s control.” It can be a snap reaction, but it can also come with physical symptoms, such as tensing of the body, rapid heart rate or flushing or a feeling of heat.

How Is Postpartum Rage Diagnosed?

Postpartum rage is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t real. Zechowy elaborates: “Postpartum rage is not a medical diagnosis. It’s a sign a woman has unmet needs, such as greater support and more sleep. It’s also a sign that she may have postpartum depression or anxiety.” Rage is a message, and it should be listened to and investigated. When rage reactions happen, look closely at not only the triggering event but the leadup over the last days or weeks. Usually, rage responses happen after we’ve neglected our needs over time.

Postpartum Rage Treatment

Postpartum rage treatment can begin with identifying and advocating for your needs, which can get you off the path to a better rage response. It can also mean getting help from a professional. “Seeking support and treatment is an important step for [those] experiencing rage in the postpartum period,” reminds Hays.

“Part of the goal of any therapy will be to help a mom experiencing postpartum rage rid herself of any blame, to come to understand her triggers, and to learn tools to help her manage her feelings when they present,” says Goldberg. She also advocates for antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for women who are diagnosed with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety or other mental health and postnatal mood disorders.

Other Tips to Cope With Postpartum Rage

Making your mental health a priority during your postpartum period and proactively taking care of your needs will help you cope with postpartum rage. Scheduling time on your calendar to do something (anything) for yourself is one way of telling yourself that your needs matter. Communicating directly with your partner or support system about your needs will also help you feel less resentment (a precursor to rage) to get the help you need. Goldberg adds, “Additional coping strategies that can offer some benefits include implementing relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, journaling and long baths.”

Adding more emotional regulation skills to your toolbox will also help you cope with postpartum rage. Practice safely expressing anger in neutral moments to build muscle memory for when you really need it. Grounding strategies like stomping the ground, punching the air or yelling into a pillow can help you release your anger in a healthier way.

How Long Does Postpartum Rage Last?

Postpartum rage is rage experienced in the postpartum period. Several factors can affect its severity and how long it lasts. “Postpartum rage can last as long as the mom remains overwhelmed and exhausted,” adds Zechowy. (Yes, postpartum rage can easily become pervasive so-called “mom rage”.

Additionally, if you have postpartum depression or anxiety, postpartum rage will likely continue until those conditions are addressed and treated, says Zechowy.

Postpartum rage is the tip of the iceberg, and underneath is usually sleep deprivation, resentment, unmet needs and potentially some mental health struggles. Finding the cause of your rage and paying attention to your emotional and psychological needs when they’re whispers instead of shouts will help you get your responses under control. Remember: rage doesn’t mean you’re bad. It means you’re in desperate need—and it’s time to get the help you deserve.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Rachel Goldberg, MS, LMFT, is a postpartum specialist and therapist, and the founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy in Studio City, California.

[Lauren Hays](https://www.thematrescence.com/village-of-experts/ ), PMHNP, is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and co-founder of The Matrescence, an app and private community offering postpartum education for moms.

Jill Zechowy, MD, MS, is a perinatal mental health physician specializing in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and author of Motherhood Survival Manual: Your Prenatal Guide to Prevent Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. She earned her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Cleveland Clinic, Postpartum Rage

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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