Select Page

If there is one intention I have had with starting this blog it is to empower women and families.  I feel like knowledge is power and I have been gaining some important knowledge that I want to share.  As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and as a Mom I have been given experiences of learning recently about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, or otherwise called “Postpartum”

When I had my first child I experienced postpartum anxiety, and with my second child I had postpartum anxiety and depression.  When I finally realized what was happening I went to every conference I could find on these disorders.  I am sharing what I learned with you today in honor of Perinatal mood and anxiety disorder awareness month.   Here are some things you probably didn’t know about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders:

1. Postpartum is not just about depression

There has been an official change in the past few years in the way that doctors and therapists are talking about postpartum depression.  The new terminology is “Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders.”  The reasons for this are that depression or anxiety can hit before the baby is born, and postpartum disorders do not just include depression.  Perinatal mood disorders can include depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (with a traumatic birth) and psychosis.  These disorders can be something that a woman has experienced previous, or something that she has never experienced and happens during pregnancy or after a baby is born.  Generally symptoms will present following the 6-8 week period of postpartum and will stay for months or years following the birth of a child.

This is so important to know because by the time I had my first son I had been actively treating patients as a therapist for over 5 years.  I had a good handle on depression and anxiety, what they look like and how to treat them.  I went through two years of perinatal anxiety without having any idea that anything was wrong.  It wasn’t until I had my second child, and started also experiencing depression that I started to realize I was experiencing a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.

2. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are the number one complication of pregnancy and childbirth

It is reported that about 20 percent of women will experience some sort of Perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, making it the most common complication of childbirth.  With that said it is shocking that OBGYN’s, pediatricians, and even therapists are highly under educated about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

One reason there is not much funding and education for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is the shame that surrounds them.  Society has framed motherhood as a holy and beautiful experience.  Many moms feel that if they are sad or anxious it is their fault because everyone else is on cloud nine and bonding perfectly with their baby.  This shame causes moms to be silent, gets in the way of seeking treatment, and leaves vulnerable moms isolated.  We can do so much for new moms and for families if we start to have open and non shaming discussions about the difficult and ugly parts of motherhood, particularly motherhood of an infant.

3. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are not normal

These disorders being common does not mean they are normal.  Postpartum anxiety in particular can be difficult to detect or to recognize because on the outside it just looks like very attentive parenting.

I was hyper vigilant about my son, my heart rate would skyrocket when he would cry, I didn’t let anyone but family watch him and felt extreme guilt every time I left him.  I remember running to get him when I heard him crying, and in my sleep deprived and anxious stupor I ran right into the wall.

The thing I didn’t know at the time is that this isn’t normal.  I was experiencing a perinatal anxiety disorder.  I just thought I was being a super good and attentive mom.

Hyper-vigilance about your baby isn’t normal.  Being afraid you will hurt the baby or avoiding the baby isn’t normal.  Not being able to sleep when the baby sleeps isn’t normal.  If you don’t feel like yourself or if you feel angry, irritable, and worried a lot of the time, you may have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder.

4. Postpartum Depression does not look like “normal” depression

Normally when someone is depressed they have lost interest in everything they used to care about, this is not generally the case with postpartum.  Postpartum depression looks a lot more like irritability than sadness a lot of the time.

Generally it is more difficult to see if a postpartum mom is depressed because she is usually still getting up and doing what needs to be done.  One therapist even said she sees it as a warning sign if a new mom looks “too good” because she knew the amount of effort it took that mom to get her makeup on and hair done.  Postpartum depression is often driven by thoughts of inadequacy, perfectionism, and shame.  Above all, most moms would never want anyone to know they were depressed because of the level of shame that surrounds these complications of childbirth.  Moms have been taught that this is “supposed” to be a happy and joyful time and that their babies are a great blessing.  Usually this means they are judging what they are feeling and afraid to share it.

Postpartum does not look like the horrible things you see in the news with moms harming their babies.  One to two of every one thousand (.2%) of moms will experience a much more serious complication called postpartum psychosis, in which they are seeing or hearing things that are not really there.  Of the .2 percent of women that experience postpartum psychosis, there is a 4-5 percent chance they will harm themselves or their babies, so the sensationalization in the media that happens around postpartum disorders gives a false picture of the risks really associated with postpartum depression.

5. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are very treatable

You can get better from postpartum depression and anxiety with proper treatment. Here are some helpful treatments if you are experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety:

Sleep:  Your body is not able to regulate mood without at least a 4-5 hour stretch of sleep at night.  If you are nursing and have a partner, ask them to feed a bottle of pumped milk to your baby once a night, for example at the 11:00 feeding so you can sleep from 9:00 to 2:00.  Hire someone to come over during the day so you can take a nap.  Problem solve in whatever way necessary to get at least a 4 hour stretch of sleep every night.  If you are not able to sleep when the baby sleeps due to insomnia, it is important to seek professional help from a doctor or therapist.

Omega 3’s:  Fish oils are proven to prevent and treat anxiety and depression in new moms. Up to 3000 mg combined EPA and DHA (look on the back of the label) are proven safe during pregnancy and nursing.  Make sure to use a high quality supplement such as Carlson Super Omega-3.

Gentle exercise:  Walking with the stroller or getting outside each day is an important part of healing the mind and body.  Once the body has begun healing from delivery consider adding gentle stretching and yoga.

Nutrition:  Research shows that diet has a part in healing the mind and body in the postpartum period.  Studies have shown that women who ate a diet high in vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and whole grains had less depression and anxiety.  The same studies showed that women who ate a diet of processed or fried food, refined grains, sugar and beer had higher rates of depression and anxiety.

Therapy and medication:  Both therapy and medication are effective in treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.  It is important to talk with a therapist or doctor which specializes in these specific disorders in order to get an educated response.  Postpartum support international is a great place to start if you need help in finding an appropriate referral.

6. Postpartum isn’t just for moms

It is estimated that 10 percent of dads will experience postpartum depression or anxiety.  Some things dads with postpartum depression may feel are:  pulled between the demands of work and home, feel nothing is done right, fears she will never be the same, frustrated because there is no apparent solution, angry and feeling like efforts go un noticed.

7. You are not alone, you are not to blame, with help you will be well

This is the motto of Postpartum Support International, which has been my reference for this article.  Their website has amazing resources including lists of qualified professionals.  They also have a helpline, lists of support groups, and videos and articles.

I can attest that from my own experience it has been hard work, but now at 10 months postpartum with my second child I am feeling so much better than I was.  I feel I am getting back to myself, I am less irritable and angry, and more able to connect with my baby.  I am grateful I have had first hand experience with postpartum depression and anxiety because I have learned to be compassionate with myself, take care of myself, and have learned to start to let go with parenting.

If we can recognize and support parents suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders we can support the children in our communities.  There is a lot of ground to be covered when it comes to legislation and education but as well empower ourselves and others I am very hopeful that we can create the kind of community support that parents suffering from these disorders need.