When I rule the world, all the hospitals in the land will include a module about postpartum anxiety and depression in their classes for new parents. This would prevent new mothers (and their partners) from being blindsided, and spell out where to go for help. In this amazing land of mine, all OBGYNs will screen their clients for a history of depression and anxiety before or while they’re pregnant, and everyone that encounters a new mom from lactation consultants to pediatricians will band together to support her transition into parenthood. Don’t you want to come live in my kingdom? We also have free chocoalte cake there on Tuesdays.
The great news about postpartum depression and anxiety is that they are highly treatable. The bad news is that the stigma many women feel when admitting that new motherhood is not what they expected, combined with the fact that relatively few psychiatrists and therapists are highly trained in this area can make accessing services difficult. Highly publicized cases like the Andrea Yates tragedy, can lead new mothers to worry that they are going “crazy” or might hurt their babies. The truth is, that postpartum psychosis is a relatively rare phenomenon, occuring in only .1% (1 in 1,000) women. More common are postpartum OCD symptoms which can lead a woman to be compulsively afraid that she will accidentally hurt her child. This is quite different than delusions and hallucinations that accompany postpartum psychosis.
Usually, the most disturbing thing about feeling bad after having your baby is that these symptoms come relentlessly at a point when energy and resources are at their most scarce. You may know you need help, but can’t imagine having the time or energy to make it to an appointment. It’s downright confusing when what you may have thought would be the happiest time of your life turns out to be the most difficult. Sometimes, even one appointment with a knowledgable clinician can pave the way feeling better. Here are a few tips:
1) Recognize your feelings and honor them: The feelings of anxiety, sadness, or detachment don’t make you mean, crazy, or a bad mother. Pregnancy and the postpartum period are a melting pot of new sensations, emotions, and situations. Even the most well-adjusted woman can experience intense, contradictory thoughts and feelings. These can be caused by the physical challenges of breast feeding, healing from labor and delivery, and lack of sleep, and exacerbated by all of the psychosocial changes that are occuring at the same time.
2) Consider all the Options: It is possible that your symptoms may be best helped by a combination of both therapy and medication. This is a difficult choice to make for many mothers who are concerned about the presence of medications in their breast milk. Most doctors agree that the small amount excreted will not harm the baby. There is no perfect solution in this regard, however I do have a bias about it. I am very pro-breastfeeding, and do so myself. However, I believe that if a mother needs to formula feed in order to maintain a happy balance, or to take needed medications that is what she should do. I have treated plenty of sad children with behavioral nightmares, with whom I could tell immediately that something in the parental system was not right (for instance, depression, OCD, anxiety). I have never met a child who was trying to kill his friends with the nearest Tonka truck because he had formula as an infant.
3) Get Yourself Connected: Parenthood is challenging enough without doing it in a bubble. These days, there are a variety of ways to get hooked in with other mothers. While support from your spouse, parents, and friends are important, they can’t replace the play-by-play experience of other women who are doing this new journey at the same time. You can find groups of moms by going to lactation meetings at our local hospitals, visiting message boards, attending functions at your religious institution, and going to www.meetup.com. In addition, there are mommy-and-me yoga groups available, and the Orange County library system hosts infant and toddler story time.
As a new mom myself, I love hearing other moms’ stories. Please drop me a line and let me know how your experience is shaping up!
Your Partner in Healing,
If you would like a FREEE 30 minute consultation please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 407.913.4988.