Jennifer’s loved ones want her to speak to a therapist immediately. She has just given birth, but wants nothing to do with her new baby. As a result, Jennifer feels so isolated from the world and her friends, whom she knows want nothing but to support her and understand what’s happenign for her. But the weight of it all is actually making her feel as though she is starting to resent the baby! She misses her friends, her sense of freedom, and whomever she apparently was before she had the baby that feels so lost now. This isn’t how a new mom should be feeling! Or is it?
Brittany and Aaron had been trying for a baby for so long!!! Or at least it felt that way to them. Subsequently, once they got pregnant, both assumed that once the baby arrived, they would be one big happy family. Unfortunately, since the birth of the baby Brittany can’t get out of bed, doesn’t want anything to eat, and feels hopeless. It is literally the opposite of what they expected. Where was the joy about the new life they expected to experience?
Lisa and Ashley would love to have a baby, but are concerned about postpartum depression, in addition to a host of other factors about getting pregnant. Lisa’s mother had postpartum depression after each of her children, so she naturallt fears that the same thing will happen to her. Ashley has suggested that they speak to a counselor to construct a plan-of-action in case Lisa develops postpartum depression. Lisa thinks this is a great idea, but worries that a counselor won’t really be able to help them.
Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression, and Postpartum Psychosis
Before we define these terms, let’s start with some statistics. It’s important to understand that the “baby blues,” postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis are quite common. In spite of this, new mothers may feel a great deal of shame or concern that their experience is atypical, especially if it involves distressing feelings, let alone significant distressing feelings. Consequently, it’s important that they discuss things openly and honestly to get the help they need, and it’s important for our culture to support them in this endeavor, both as an ends in itself, and to reduce societal stigma.
The “Baby Blues”
During/after giving birth, it’s only naturally for new moms to feel a host of new sensations, physiological, psychological, and spiritual. And for sure, most new moms report being overwhelmed to one degree or another, and exhausted — not only have they experienced labor and/or caesarean delivery-related physical stress, but they are met with new demands from the baby. A mother’s sleep schedule, hormone balance, and self-care routine can quickly become a source of distress or discomfort — even if she has a loving and supportive partner! In particular, many new mothers experience a natural loss of control in that so much of their lives revolve around caring for baby that when coupled with a lack of sleep, can naturally increase anxiety. However, many moms experience this fully and move right on through — after some time, the clouds part, their bodies and minds adjust, and their support systems kick in!
Is the Baby Blues the same as Postpartum Depression?
While there can clearly be some overlap in presenting synmptoms, the “baby blues” and postpartum depression are not really the same thing. Around 80% of new moms experience the baby blues, while approximately 1 in 7 women (~14%) are affected by postpartum depression. Furthermore, 1-2% of all births result in the mother experiencing postpartum psychosis, a feature that can be associated with postpartum depression but is generall not a part of the “baby blues.” Also, unlike the “baby blues,” postpartum depression does not go away by itself. Instead, new moms suffering from postpartum depression generally need to seek outside help to make it through this difficult time without lasting effects.
Are Postpartum Depression and Depression the Same Thing?
Even though postpartum depression is a distinct phenomenon known to psychotherapists, its technical name according to the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (the guidebook for counselors and psychiatrists that contains a list of all commonly known mental health issues) is actually Major Depressive Disorder, Peripartum Onset — they’re essentially the same thing, but the Peripartum type specifier just means the depression occurs during/after childbirth. As a matter of fact, up to 6% of women will experience a major depressive episode during pregnancy or in the first year following delivery. It is also estimated that 50% of all MDD episodes actually begin prior to delivery or postpartum. For this reason, all episodes are referred to collectively as “peripartum.”
What are the symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that the symptoms of postpartum depression usually appear right before birth to four weeks postpartum. Symptoms include:
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Not wanting to be around the new baby, friends, and family members
- Thoughts of hurting the new baby
- Feelings of shame and guilt about not being a “good enough” mom
- Experiencing higher than normal levels of sadness.
- Restlessness, intense mood swings, and heightened anger
- Lacking the desire to engage in once-loved activities
- Lack of appetite, muscle fatigue, and headaches
Are certain people more likely to develop Postpartum Depression?
There are several risk factors that can make the likelihood postpartum depression higher. The likelihood of developing postpartum depression rises when:
- The new mom has experienced depression or postpartum depression during a previous pregnancy.
- Traumatic life events prior to the birthing process.
- Medical issues during the birthing process.
- Alcohol and drug use.
- Lack of a supportive social system.
Lastly, postpartum psychosis is the most severe example of what may occur after giving birth. Just like postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis does not go away on its’ own. It must be treated with the help of a mental health professional and medication. Symptoms develop soon after giving birth, and immediate treatment is of UPMOST importance. The biggest risk factor is if the new mom has ever been diagnosed is bipolar disorder, or has experienced a psychotic episode. Postpartum Support International states that incidences of suicide and infanticide are between 4-5%. Symptoms include:
- Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia
- Mood swings and irritability
- Inability to communication
- Hyperactivity and lack of sleep
In closing, if you are experiencing the “baby blues,” postpartum depression, or postpartum psychosis remember that you are not alone. You are NOT a bad mother, and need to take care of yourself. Remember, as they tell us on an airplane, put your oxygen mask on first (e.g. going to therapy or taking medication) before you put on anyone else’s!! It’s okay to struggle to be fully present with your little one until you get the assistance you deserve.
Suggestions for now:
- Surround yourself with loved ones. Even if you desperately want to be left alone, postpartum moms (and all people, really!!!) need human contact. Your friends and family love you. They want to help as much as they can. Ask friends to come over to watch TV or eat a meal. Let your family distract you from the hopelessness in whatever way they can (e.g. board games, reading a good book, or listening to music).
- Find support systems. Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Stress Center are two organizations that help women with the “baby blues,” PPD, and PPP. Not only do these organizations give out a plethora of information, but they can help connect you with local support groups!
- Accept Practical Support. As much as hugs and nice conversations help, don’t forget that sometimes love is spelled “DO STUFF FOR ME.” Consider allowing a loved one help with chores, feeding the baby, going grocery shopping, or cooking meals. Many partners/spouses love to help with these things!! Remember, you aren’t failing at motherhood if a loved one helps you.
- Express yourself! Let the emotions out! The more you deny that you have postpartum depression and push down your emotions, the worse it will seem. Cry, scream, throw pillows, and allow yourself to feel each emotion. You are an amazing person, and bottling emotions will make your feel more out of control. If you don’t have someone it’s safe to do that with, time to consider a St. Louis counselor at Change, Inc.
It’s normal for some people to struggle taking these suggestions. In fact, that reality is often a prime indicator of the need for therapy. We can help!
Looking for St. Louis Counseling for Postpartum Depression or PPD Counseling in St. Louis?
ST. LOUIS COunseling Locations
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Change, Inc. South Hampton & 44:
3460 Hampton Avenue, Suite 204
St. Louis, MO 63139
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314-669-6242 / 877-5-CHANGE (524-2643)
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