Pregnancy is filled with many emotions and sensations. Not only are our bodies changing, but there are also wishes, hopes, plans and expectations that bombard us both from the inside and outside.
Typically during pregnancy, appetite increases, there’s an eager anticipation of the new life to come, and sleep is good (except for the usual physical adjustments). Normal doubts and worries can be sprinkled throughout the pregnancy experience, but they shouldn’t dominate our days or nights.
When you ask yourself, “Do I emotionally feel like ‘me’ most of the day?,” “Am I able to sleep at night?,” “Am I generally looking forward to the baby coming?,” and “Am I feeling hungry?,” the answer should be “Yes.”
If not, seek out a specialized health care practitioner who can help determine what’s happening. Depression and anxiety affect just as many pregnant women as new mothers and can happen to the strongest, most intelligent and loving moms.
Every trimester you should either be given a formal screening or simply asked a few key questions to determine how you’re doing emotionally. Receiving the right help during pregnancy will not only be best for you and your entire family, but it will also help you minimize the risk of postpartum depression.
Another resource is the free app PPD Gone! Download it for reading and listening material about the prevention and treatment of depression during pregnancy and new motherhood.
Most new moms experience the normal “Baby Blues” – a few days to two weeks of mild ups and downs, weepiness, and stress. But, what if the normal blues don’t disappear after two weeks following delivery, or what if the feelings become more intense? Learn more about how to prevent the baby blues here.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common of the six perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) and affects about 1 in 7 new mothers. The primary cause of PPD is the enormous shifting of reproductive hormones following the delivery. In addition, sleep deprivation, inadequate nutrition, isolation, poor partner support, health issues of mom or baby, a high needs infant, or other major stressors can cause or make PPD worse.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
The good news is, PPD is nothing to be afraid of – it’s 100% treatable! It doesn’t necessarily go away by itself, so the faster you get help, generally, the faster it disappears.
Some common symptoms of PPD are:
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulty sleeping at night (even when the baby is sleeping)
- Big appetite changes (usually a decrease)
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Frequent crying
- Lack of emotion
- Hopelessness (feeling of nothing to look forward to)
If you feel you might be suffering from PPD or postpartum anxiety, find a psychotherapist who specializes in treating PPD. Don’t settle for a therapist just because she’s covered by your insurance. You deserve the best help and your family needs you to be well as soon as possible.
Here are a few questions to ask when interviewing the potential therapist:
- How many days/weeks have you received specific training in the perinatal mood and anxiety disorders? (The therapist might mention the Postpartum Support International training or the Postpartum Action Institute training, for example).
- What are some books or other resources you recommend for women suffering?
- What are the names of the organizations you belong to that are specifically focused on maternal mental health (such as Marce Society, Postpartum Support International, NASPOG)?
- What type(s) of therapy do you use to treat mothers with PPD? (Short-term therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Interpersonal therapy (IPT), or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are appropriate, rather than long-term therapy like psychoanalysis).
Dads and adoptive parents can also experience depression after the baby joins the family. Research tells us that fathers become depressed at the rate at least 10 percent and they often appear withdrawn, angry, or sullen. When the mom has PPD, his risk for developing depression jumps up between 24 and 50 percent. As Chapter 16 of Postpartum Depression for Dummies discusses, fathers can easily become depressed if they aren’t receiving good support when their wives start recovering from PPD.
The Dr. Shosh Wellness Plan
Every new mom and mom-to-be should have a strategy in place in order to stay healthy and help prevent postpartum problems. The Dr. Shosh Wellness Plan contains seven essential pieces.
The last two steps are specifically for women who are suffering from PPD:
- Throw out the myths and fantasies of motherhood. (My needs shouldn’t matter anymore, taking care of a baby is easy for good moms, I should be able to do this all myself, etc.)
- If you have a partner, discuss your wishes and expectations together. Never assume, for instance, how the other one feels (about what the baby should eat, where it will sleep, who is on duty at nighttime, and so on.)
- Protect your brain chemistry (including excellent proteins, complex carbs, Prenatal DHA or Postnatal Omega-e fish oil supplements, vitamin D3, and folate in your daily diet.)
- Get a few hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep. (Even a breastfeeding mother can do this with the right plan.)
- Exercise a few minutes per day for endorphins and oxygenating the brain. Don’t attempt anything strenuous until you’re sleeping well, or it can backfire.
- Line up emotional support with friends, family members, and support groups.
- Schedule physical support on a regular basis – someone to clean your home, watch your child(ren) so you can nurture yourself.
- Arrange professional support by finding a counselor who specializes in PPD.
- If you are suffering from PPD, or believe you are at risk, consult with a health care practitioner (specialist) about treatment options.
The smartest and strongest step a suffering mommy can take for her family is to find help as soon as possible, just as she would for any other potentially serious condition. With proper help, you should expect a complete recovery and be able to enjoy your happy life!
*The article was written by Dr. Shoshana Bennett, Founder of Postpartum Assistance for Mothers and former president of Postpartum Support International.