Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: How to Recognize it and Overcome It
By Jill Thomas, LISW, RPT
Most women express a myriad of emotions after having a baby, and it’s normal to feel “not normal” for a while when bringing a new baby home. However, for many women, the overwhelming emotions, sleeplessness, anxiety, crying episodes, or irritability don’t go away and the typical adjustment period becomes much harder than expected.
We’ve all heard about the common “baby blues” that 80% of new moms say they experience for a couple weeks after coming home from the hospital. However, postpartum depression/anxiety can onset anytime in the two years after having a baby. A common misconception is that postpartum depression/anxiety has to occur right after a woman has a baby and that she is depressed and crying all the time. However, every woman who struggles with a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) may experience it differently, so it’s important to know how to recognize it in yourself and others.
Key Facts about PMAD:
● It’s pretty common! 1 in 7 new moms and 1 in 10 new dads experience some form of postpartum depression or other perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). It is the most common complication of childbirth, and yet there is still such a stigma surrounding postpartum depression and anxiety that the general public still remain uneducated and misinformed about it.
● It’s never your fault! PMAD is caused by a combination of hormone imbalances, biochemical factors and/or environmental stress. It can happen to women of any age, race, socioeconomic status, and with any amount of parenting experience (whether it occurs with baby #1 or baby #4!) Just like you wouldn’t blame a mom who developed a thyroid disorder or skin condition, you also can’t cause or choose to have postpartum depression. It actually takes incredible strength and courage to notice the struggle and to reach out for help.
● It isn’t just depression. Symptoms will vary from person to person, but may include tearfulness, anxiety, panic attacks, sadness, depression, irritability, anger, feeling inadequate, insomnia, loss of appetite, and obsessive thoughts. PMAD has 6 categories based on the symptoms the moms is experiencing: postpartum depression, anxiety, bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and by far the most concerning and rare form of PMAD - postpartum psychosis.
● It often goes undiagnosed. Many medical providers are uneducated and misinformed about PMAD, so OBGYNs and pediatricians may not screen for PMAD or recognize it when a mom is in their office. Also, some moms feel embarrassed or ashamed that they don’t seem to feel “like all the other moms” and they fear they’ll be judged if they open up honestly about their difficulties since having their baby. We need to be honest about motherhood and the unexpected struggles so these moms don’t have to feel afraid to open up and reach out for help.
● It’s 100% treatable! Once moms get the adequate help and resources they need, they often recover fairly quickly from PMAD. If they get the proper treatment, which usually includes a combination of counseling, medication, adequate sleep, and/or a support group, then they are resilient and often recover in a matter of months. Whereas, left untreated they could suffer with having difficulties with mother-baby bonding, delays in the infant’s development, family and marital stress, and in serious cases, untreated PMAD can lead to other mental health disorders and even suicide.
Tips to Prevent and Treat PMAD
Support for a new mom is crucial, so often I encourage moms to hire a birth/postpartum doula to offer them education and care throughout the pregnancy and postpartum period. Asking family, friends, and church groups to bring meals, babysit, clean house, etc can help take the burden off of the recovering mom as well. Self-care of sleeping when she can, eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, taking Vitamin D and Omega 3’s, getting outside, exercise, meeting with friends, and squeezing time in with the Lord can all be crucial in maintaining overall well being. No matter what we go through, God is always with us and is oftentimes using the struggle to draw us nearer to Him.
Romans 15:13 (NIV)
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Meditating on Scripture and repeating it throughout the day will help to trust in God’s promises and be present with Him in the moment rather than becoming overwhelmed by the day.
Since PMAD is a mental health condition, seeking a mental health counselor for therapy is ideal, especially someone who has experience treating PMAD. Therapy can be essential in making a full recovery because it allows the mom to resolve the contributing factors of the condition. Many cities offer support groups where moms gather to support, encourage, and relate to one another in working through PMAD. This can be exceptionally beneficial, especially when a husband or family members don’t understand what the mom is going through and struggle to validate her struggles or offer the necessary support. Some great organizations that have helpful resources and can connect moms with other moms, counselors and support groups are Postpartum Progress www.postpartumprogress.com/ and Postpartum Support International www.postpartum.net
Most likely, if you haven’t already experienced postpartum struggles like these, you know someone who has. It’s important to open up the conversation about PMAD so moms can be better educated, prepared, and supported throughout their postpartum experience. All moms are warriors, and the battles we have are not meant to be faced alone. It takes incredible strength and courage to reach out, but that’s where true connection, authenticity, and healing happens.