May is the Month When Mothers are Celebrated And Postpartum Struggles Are Acknowledged
When a woman learns that she is pregnant the reaction is often excitement and sheer happiness. The months ahead are a whirlwind of planning, doctors appointments and anticipation of the bundle of joy that is soon to arrive. Many women are unprepared for the for the feelings of sadness and anxiety that they are faced with after the birth of their baby.
Postpartum Support International, an organization dedicated to promoting awareness, prevention and treatment of mental health issues related to childbearing in every country worldwide, has declared the first week in May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week. The goal is educate women about the risk factors and triggers for maternal depression and give them the courage to speak up when they are feeling down and seek the necessary treatment.
Did you know untreated depression is the number one complication of pregnancy? Despite that fact, research shows that health care providers aren’t asking new moms about feeling following birth cause mood swings; up to 80% of women experience the “baby blues.” This condition usually improves without treatment in one to two weeks after giving birth. However, 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, which does not improve without treatment. Symptoms may appear anytime within the first year after giving birth and include:
- Feeling sad or hopeless most of the time.
- Excessive crying for no reason
- Feeling extremely overwhelmed
- Doubting your parenting abilities, feeling you aren’t good enough for your baby.
- You don’t bond with your baby
- You feel angry, irritable and annoyed most of the time; you may even resent your baby or partner
- You feel numb
- Eating too much or too little
- Inability to sleep when the baby sleeps
- Inability to concentrate, focus or make decisions
- Fear of being alone with the baby
- Feeling like something is wrong with you, but afraid to reach out for help for fear of judgement
- Thoughts of harming self or the baby
Other Postpartum Conditions
Postpartum anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder, postpartum psychosis and bipolar disorder are other conditions that can appear after childbirth.
Postpartum Anxiety & Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Postpartum anxiety is actually more common than depression, especially for first-time moms; it affects up to 10% of women. Those with anxiety may suffer from physical symptoms including racing heart, dizziness or shortness of breath and feel a sense of impending doom. Often intrusive thoughts enter the mind and you begin thinking about all the “what ifs.” What if my baby stops breathing? What if s/he isn’t eating enough? Anxiety may cross the line into OCD when you become overly occupied with the baby’s safety. You may be constantly checking; is the baby ok? Is the stove off? You might even be afraid to be alone with the baby.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can develop in women if they had a traumatic birthing experience. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare, but serious condition that occurs only in 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 births. Symptoms often appear within the first two weeks after giving birth. According the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms include excessive energy, agitation, hallucinations, and extreme paranoia or suspiciousness. If any of these appear, immediate medical attention is needed.
Although bipolar disorder isn’t considered a postpartum condition, it’s something to watch out for if you had depression before or during pregnancy. If a woman is predisposed for developing bipolar disorder, childbirth may trigger the first depressive, manic or hypomanic episode. In these instances the symptoms that appear are typical of a bipolar disorder and usually require treatment with medication.
Who’s at Risk?
All women are at risk for developing postpartum depression or anxiety, but some are at a higher risk than others. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women who have one or more of the following risk factors are at higher risk:
- Symptoms of depression during or after a previous pregnancy
- Previous experience with depression or bipolar disorder at another time in her life
- A family member who has been diagnosed with depression or other mental illness
- A stressful life event during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, such as job loss, death of a loved one, domestic violence, or personal illness
- Medical complications during childbirth, including premature delivery or having a baby with medical problems
- Mixed feelings about the pregnancy, whether it was planned or unplanned
- A lack of strong emotional support from her spouse, partner, family, or friends
- Alcohol or other drug abuse problems.
The good news is postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health disorders are treatable. You shouldn’t be worried about developing one of these conditions all through pregnancy, but you should educate yourself and your family so symptoms can be identified promptly if they appear. Treatment often consists of medication and/or psychotherapy. During this time, it’s important to seek support from family members, friends or support groups. Also, it’s important to continue treatment even after you feel better because symptoms can return.
If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, call 911, go to the nearest emergency room or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Postpartum Support International
- Postpartum Progress
- National Institute of Mental Health
- American Pregnancy Association
Information provided on behalf of Silver Hill Hospital