ADHD is a difficult diagnosis to manage but can be done with the right combination of schedule, medications, and therapy. However, the hormones of pregnancy and post-pregnancy can change everything. Are women with ADHD more likely to have postpartum symptoms, and how does ADHD affect postpartum?
To survive ADHD postpartum, be sure to work with your doctor to adjust your meds. Get plenty of rest, talk with your therapist, and exercise regularly. With medication adjustments, counseling, rest, and a steady schedule, they can manage the symptoms and care for their baby.
This article will discuss how having ADHD affects postpartum symptoms and how postpartum increases ADHD symptoms. I will set out a plan for surviving both and thriving with your new baby. Consider this article your guide to navigating ADHD symptoms (and postpartum symptoms) after having your baby.
What Living With ADHD Postpartum Means
Women with ADHD may experience more severe postpartum symptoms and a worsening in ADHD symptoms after giving birth.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a mental disorder that affects men, women, and children worldwide. Although it’s primarily diagnosed in young boys, there are plenty of adult women with ADHD.
Fluctuating hormones throughout a lifetime affect the severity of the symptoms, and pregnancy is no exception.
You might have noticed your ADHD symptoms becoming less severe during pregnancy. If so, you’re not alone. Many women report better brain functioning and more focus during pregnancy. This was because your hormone estrogen was at the highest level it’s ever been while your baby was growing.
Estrogen floods your body with dopamine and serotonin, two of the “happy hormones” that create focus and good feelings within your brain. When it’s at high levels, it’s easier to function with ADHD symptoms.
However, during a crash, it can make symptoms worse and much more challenging to handle.
Usually, estrogen flows through your body in a cycle. At the beginning of your menstrual cycle, it is steadily rising to prepare for fertility. However, the second half of your cycle involves a rise in progesterone, and estrogen levels drop.
If you have a more challenging time with your ADHD symptoms or mood swings right before your period, it’s because of estrogen.
After giving birth, the sudden drop in estrogen levels is one of the most significant drops you will experience (other than menopause, which is the largest period of hormone fluctuation in a lifetime). You might have been enjoying a lapse in symptoms, but unfortunately, that’s about to change.
Do Women With ADHD Have Worse Postpartum?
Unfortunately, women with ADHD tend to get worse during postpartum than cognitively normal women.
While the hormone fluctuation is the same, the mood swings and lack of focus can make postpartum depression especially difficult for ADHD women. Their symptoms may last longer and be more intense than average.
Postpartum depression is worse than the traditional “baby blues.”
Although they have many of the same symptoms, baby blues are more common than postpartum and only last a week or two. Once the mother’s hormones even out, she feels much better.
Postpartum depression, however, lasts much longer and generally requires counseling, and affects all kinds of women.
The depletion of hormones after giving birth and the wild emotional swings of childbearing can lead to long-term depression, withdrawal, or anger. Here are some common symptoms of long term postpartum depression:
- Constant low energy
- High anxiety
- Mood swings
- Crying spells
- Physical or emotional withdrawal
- Low interest in any activities
- Loss of appetite
These symptoms vary with each new mother but don’t lessen for quite some time.
If you’re experiencing these after having a baby, don’t hesitate to reach out to your therapist. Women with ADHD can experience these symptoms and their usual ADHD symptoms, making this time especially trying.
Can ADHD Symptoms Get Worse After Having a Baby?
Women with ADHD might have experienced a brief respite from symptoms during pregnancy, but the lack of hormones in the body (and the lack of sleep that invariably accompanies a newborn) can make them worse.
Sometimes, ADHD symptoms are even worse than they were before pregnancy.
While every person with ADHD is different, many of them share several of these symptoms. Coping with ADHD is a lifetime effort and is often done with the help of medicines and therapists. Typical ADHD symptoms include:
- Inability to focus
- Mood swings
- Anger or aggression
- Lack of restraint
- Action or word repetition
- Short attention span
Women are just as likely as men to have ADHD but less likely to get diagnosed.
These symptoms can be attributed to other issues; many women go undiagnosed until they are adults. Only very recently, more studies have been done on the effects of hormones on ADHD during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause – however, more research is needed
What Causes ADHD Symptoms To Get Worse?
While there is no cure for ADHD, there is also no one thing that causes it to worsen. However, a significant issue for women with ADHD is the loss of estrogen, whether through their menstrual cycle or after pregnancy.
For postpartum women, dramatic hormone fluctuations and lack of sleep are most likely to cause worse symptoms.
Several things can make ADHD worse for specific people. These are generally health or schedule-related, and being mindful of them benefits even individuals who don’t have ADHD . However, they take extra mental energy from someone with ADHD.
Here are several things people with ADHD should avoid, so their symptoms don’t worsen:
- Unhealthy food (eating out often or junk food)
- Consistent lack of exercise
- Inconsistent sleep schedule
- Mess or clutter
- Too much screen time (especially late at night)
- Less caffeine
- Lack of a regular schedule
- Skipping medications or taking the wrong medications
- Hormone fluctuations
- Not going to therapy
What To Expect With Postpartum ADHD
If you’ve just given birth, congratulations! Don’t be afraid of the postpartum months. They might be challenging, especially if you have ADHD, but you will make it through. For mothers who experienced lessening their ADHD symptoms during pregnancy, expect them to return once your estrogen levels dip down again.
As a new mom, you can expect mood swings, anxiety, and tears, especially within the first few weeks of having the baby.
If these are severe enough to make you worried for your or others’ safety, don’t wait to contact your doctor or therapist. Also, if your symptoms last more than three weeks, talk to your therapist about them.
Overall, expect the next few weeks or months to be challenging but fulfilling.
It will be hard to adjust to the lack of hormones and sleep that comes with having a baby. However, if you do your best to take care of yourself and let others help, you’ll be able to enjoy this time and get through the worst of ADHD postpartum.
How To Cope With Postpartum ADHD
There are several methods on how to survive postpartum with ADHD.
However, many of these are tough to perform with a newborn baby and the inherently tricky adjustment. The primary methods involve adjusting medications to allow for waning hormones and continuing in a steady therapy schedule.
If you can only manage to take your meds and talk to your therapist, that’s okay.
It’s hard to watch your nutrition, exercise, and sleep schedule when adjusting to being a mother. However, one of the most critical steps on this list is reaching out and asking for help. There are always people willing to help you adjust to your new life!
As more studies have been done on women with ADHD and the effects of hormones, more doctors have realized that with huge hormonal swings such as puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause, medicine adjustments are in order.
Women with precisely adjusted prescriptions do better as their hormones change.
However, the meds you take more of might not have to be ADHD meds. Increasing estrogen can help your brain focus more and make more happy hormones. Talk to your therapist and doctor to see if you can up your estrogen intake since your body isn’t making as much now.
Even if you’re breastfeeding, taking ADHD meds won’t harm your baby.
Many women go off their meds during pregnancy, but this is more because they are experiencing more minor symptoms naturally. Always talk to your doctor, but for most women the medicine you take to focus will not negatively impact your baby inside or outside the womb. In fact, a recent comprehensive review found that “overall risk for adverse outcomes seem to be relatively low” for “different ADHD medications and pregnancy and infant health outcomes”.
Talk to Your Therapist
Regular therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is essential for managing ADHD.
If you already have a therapist or counselor, awesome! Because this is a time of enormous transition and hormonal changes, you should continue seeing them and watching your symptoms closely.
If you aren’t currently seeing a therapist, I highly recommend it, especially if your symptoms take a downward turn or you are withdrawn and sad for more than a few weeks after giving birth. Many women struggle with postpartum, and therapists are here to help you safely navigate post-birth sadness.
Exercise is one of the best natural producers of serotonin and dopamine.
You’ll be able to focus more and increase your mood. Moving your body and working out regularly is one of the top recommended methods of dealing with postpartum depression and ADHD symptoms.
However, it’s often challenging to exercise with a newborn in the house.
Take turns running around the block with your partner while the other one watches the baby. If you’re not too tired, you can jog on your treadmill during the baby’s nap or just do a few jumping jacks in the living room.
Get your body moving as much as you can.
Watch Your Nutrition
Your diet is always essential, but especially so after you’ve had a baby.
Eating healthy foods will increase your well-being and your baby’s, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Whole, natural foods with lots of protein and vegetables are fantastic choices for you and your baby.
A healthy postpartum diet can decrease your risk of worsening symptoms.
One of the most critical factors in a diet isn’t always what you eat, however. It’s how much you eat. When recovering from giving birth, you have to ensure you’re eating enough. Being chronically underfed will not benefit your brain, mood, or the health of your body and your baby.
Eat what you need.
Of course, having a newborn baby does decrease the chances of a good night’s sleep to zero.
You won’t be able to rest well for a long time. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep can increase both postpartum and ADHD symptoms. Telling a new mother to rest well is expecting the impossible.
Although the odds of not feeling tired are low, you should still rest whenever possible. If your baby’s sleeping, take the opportunity to snatch a quick nap as well (the dishes will get done, I promise). Get as much rest as you can, and your brain and body will thank you.
The first few months are a long haul, but you will feel rested again eventually.
Ask for Help
When you’re a new mother, you’re desperate to prove that you can do it.
However, everyone needs help, and it’s okay to ask for it. Even if you don’t think that you need assistance, you have loved ones waiting to let you take a break and take care of yourself. It’s vital to be able to accept help and take the time for yourself.
You won’t be able to properly take care of your new family if you aren’t taken care of well!
Allow your friends and family to give you a few hours or an afternoon to rest, recharge, and reconnect with your partner if necessary. Asking for help isn’t always fun, but you’ll always be surprised at who reaches out to help you.
Women with ADHD tend to have worse symptoms after childbirth and a higher rate of postpartum depression. However, with medicine, self-care, and help from friends and family, these new mothers can survive ADHD postpartum and enjoy the first few months of their new baby.
- ADDitude: My Symptoms Are Worse Postpartum
- U.S. News & World Report – Health: What Role Do Hormones Play in Women With ADHD?
- Psychiatry Advisor: Women With ADHD May Have More Severe Symptoms of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, Postpartum Depression, and Menopause
- Psycom: Tell Me All I Need to Know About Postpartum Depression
- MotherToBaby: ADD/ADHD: Focusing on What’s Best for Mom and Baby during Pregnancy
- MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health: New Research from the CWMH: The Course of ADHD During Pregnancy
- ADDitude: Women, Hormones, and ADHD
- Healthline: Postpartum Diet Plan: Tips for Healthy Eating After Giving Birth
- WebMD: 11 Things That Make Adult ADHD Worse