May marks National Health Maternal Depression Month, bringing awareness to the potential mental health issues mothers can face after the birth of a child. As part of that, we are taking a look at an issue faced by millions of mothers: postpartum anxiety and depression.
The last thing a new mother expects is to not love her new baby.
But according to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 9 women experience just that feeling as they suffer from symptoms of postpartum anxiety and mood disorders (also commonly known as postpartum depression). Caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, symptoms can include lack of pleasure in life or in things you used to enjoy doing; being unable to sleep even though you are completely exhausted; feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless or guilty; excessive lack of concern for the baby; or thoughts of harming yourself or the baby. These symptoms generally persist for greater than two weeks post birth and will not disappear on their own.
But why don’t you hear more mothers talking about this?
Despite it being a common issue, there’s a great deal of shame around it. Mothers can often deny symptoms, or in some cases, even deliberately mask them to avoid attention. Additionally, our culture might often misinterpret this form of anxiety and depression as “the baby blues” or perceive it as something women can just “shake off.”
Let’s set the record straight by debunking some common myths of postpartum anxiety and mood disorders.
1. All women will experience postpartum anxiety and mood disorders.
It is common for women to experience the “baby blues” after the birth of her child. While it carries similar symptoms as postpartum anxiety and mood disorders, these feelings of sadness or mood shifts go away on their own usually within two weeks of the birth.
That’s not the case with postpartum anxiety and mood disorders.
Postpartum anxiety and mood disorders’ symptoms occur to a greater degree and duration. If you experience an inability to make a simple decision such as what to make for dinner or cannot express joy through a smile when you pick up your baby – and this persists for greater than two weeks post birth – it’s time to call your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional.
2. Postpartum anxiety and mood disorders will start immediately after the birth or in the first few weeks.
The truth is postpartum anxiety and mood disorders can appear up to a year after the birth. Sometimes postpartum issues develop as a continuation of the baby blues, but it can also manifest on its own long after actually giving birth to your child.
3. Postpartum anxiety and mood disorders will go away on its own if you wait long enough.
Postpartum anxiety and mood disorders are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and can only be corrected through treatment, which can take anywhere from six months to a year. This often involves antidepressant medications and receiving counseling from a professional. I’ve personally worked with many mothers who sought help through these means – and almost all of them wish they had gone for treatment sooner.
4. You must stop breastfeeding in order to take the medications for postpartum anxiety and mood disorders.
Safe options for antidepressant medication are available to treat this condition and allow the new mother to continue breastfeeding. Ceasing breastfeeding can make the situation worse in reality, and it’s important for new mothers to understand this is not required as part of treatment or the ability to overcome the disorder.
5. Experiencing postpartum anxiety and mood disorders means you do not love your baby.
Postpartum anxiety is a chemical imbalance in the brain. This chemical imbalance will cause these feelings and can be corrected through treatment.
If you – or someone you know – may be experiencing some of the symptoms associated with postpartum anxiety and depression, the first step is to recognize there is an issue.
Seeking professional help is your best course of action. There are many resources in the community, such as OUR PLACE, that provide support for new mothers facing mental health and other challenges. You can also call your doctor or seek input from a mental health professional.
Additionally, here are some resources:
- Postpartum Support International
- HRSA Maternal and Child Health
- The National Women’s Health Information Center
Jean Ann St. Pierre RN, HBCE, CM has been a maternal child health nurse since 1980 and is currently a nurse educator for the OUR PLACE pregnancy and parenting education program. Jean Ann is experienced in Lamaze, Prepared Childbirth and HypnoBirthing. She is excited to be part of the team at OUR PLACE at Catholic Charities teaching in their pregnancy and parenting education programs.