Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

postpartum depression and anxiety

Lisa sat in my office with tears streaming down her face as she shared the great shame she felt, “I’m a terrible mom. My son deserves better.”  Her son was just 6 weeks old, and Lisa felt like such a failure her that she was certain her son would never love her.  This is not at all what she thought motherhood would feel like.  Lisa’s fears echo what I hear from so many new mothers who are weighed down by Postpartum Depression.

Postpartum Depression refers to depressive and anxious symptoms that occur for women within days or months of having a new baby. However, recent research has revealed that many women begin experiencing these symptoms during their pregnancy as well.

First, it may be helpful to understand Clinical Depression.  Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, loss of pleasures, irritability, fatigue, low motivation, apathy, changes in sleep and appetite, thoughts of death, guilt, and difficulty focusing.  When these symptoms interfere with functioning, it is considered a diagnosable condition.

So often mothers are warned to be on the lookout for these typical depressive symptoms that they fail to recognize the importance of anxiety symptoms as well.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are similar to Clinical Depression described above but may also include:
– difficulty sleeping even when baby sleeps
– feeling numb or disconnected from your baby
– having scary or negative thoughts about your baby, worries about something bad happening
– worrying that you will hurt the baby
– feeling guilty or ashamed about not being a good mother

Mothers often tell me about these worries with a sense of secrecy or shame.  They experience physiological arousal as they ruminate on these thoughts, heart racing, mind spinning, breathing rapid.  They’ll say things like:

  • I’m constantly checking on him to make sure he’s breathing.
  • I’m afraid I’ll leave my baby somewhere or someone will take him.
  • I think I’m going to ruin her, I’m such a failure
  • I’m worried they’ll take him away because I’m such a terrible mom.
  • I’m a horrible person because I don’t feel the way you’re supposed to as a mom.

Women who have a history of struggling with chronic worry or depression are at greater risk of developing a more serious Postpartum Depression and Anxiety problems.

The following experiences put women at greater risk of developing Postpartum
Depression and Anxiety:

– Difficulty getting pregnant
– Having twins or multiples
– Losing a baby
– Having a baby as a teen
– Premature labor and delivery
– Having a baby who is different, with special needs
– Pregnancy or birth complications
– Having a baby or infant hospitalized

Remember fathers and partners too
It is important to recognize that fathers or partners of new mothers are also at greater risk for depressive symptoms. While they may not experience the physiological/hormonal changes associated with birthing a baby, they do experience significant stress as they too adjust to a new family dynamic and pressures to care for mother and child in a new way.

What can you do about postpartum depression and anxiety?
There are useful strategies to try to prevent and manage postpartum depression and anxiety.

  • This is a time to nurture a good support system and call upon your support for help and companionship. Release yourself from the expectation that you should be able to handle this alone. There’s a reason people say it takes a village.
  • It is important to make time to connect with your partner, focus on working through this transition as a team rather than as adversaries.
  • Allow quiet time to yourself for self-care when you can take a bath, call a friend, get a massage, etc.
  • Make certain to rest when possible, even when sleep is elusive.  Sleep deprivation alone can create the symptoms of depression.  Utilize your support system to prioritize sleep.
  • Eat healthy, satisfying food and keep hydrated, especially if you’re nursing or within the first couple weeks of giving birth. The body is adjusting to major hormonal and physiological changes which require optimal nutrition.
  • Share your feelings with people you trust, especially other mothers.  This type of honest emotional expression can be incredibly relieving.
  • When these strategies fall short of creating lasting change, it may be time to consider seeing professional help.  Talk to your OBGyn, primary care provider or a mental health provider.  There are effective treatments to help with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

Over the course of several weeks, Lisa began to recognize her depressive and anxious thoughts as unhelpful and untrue.  She gradually began to take better care of herself and find pleasure in mothering her new son.  She learned that other women struggle too and found a community of support to help her keep a sense of humor during the tough times.  “I finally enjoy my son and feel better about myself.  My world didn’t really change, but I changed how I dealt with my world.” 

Linden BP is proud to provide specialized mental health services for women experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy. Dr. Suzanne Smith is taking new patients seeking this specialized care.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. at Linden BP. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below.