According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, postpartum depression (PPD) is one of the most underdiagnosed conditions in the US. On this week’s episode, we talked to Gabrielle Kaufman a licensed clinician with over 20 years of experience dealing with maternal mental health. She shared with us great tips on how to manage depression and anxiety, and how to be supportive to new mothers in general. Below are some key points about this topic that we hope you will find helpful. We urge you to seek treatment and care if you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing maternal mental health issues. This advice is not meant to replace the advice of a doctor.
Baby Blue’s Are Not the Same As Depression
While most new mothers experience “baby blues” due to changes in hormones that occur after giving birth, a majority of those symptoms should diminish by your 6-week check-up. Here’s an example from PostpartumProgress.com of the difference between baby blues and depression:
With postpartum depression, you feel overwhelmed. Not like “hey, this new mom thing is hard.” More like “I can’t do this and I’m never going to be able to do this.” You feel like you just can’t handle being a mother. In fact, you may be wondering whether you should have become a mother in the first place.
If the feelings you are experiencing are making you feel as though you cannot function then it’s important to share that with your doctor, clergy loved one. We also cannot underestimate the power of sisterhood and having a mom you can talk to who may have experienced similar feelings. We all need love and empathy. We also need to know that these feelings are not our fault are not indicative of our love for our babies. Our expert noted that Baby blues, are experienced by up to 80 percent of women and goes away on its own. While depression and anxiety requires proper diagnosis and treatment. For some of us hoping the feelings will “just pass” can be a mistake. Something to note is that certain women are predisposed to postpartum depression if they have had depression in the past, if it runs in their family or if they experienced extreme trauma during pregnancy
Family and Friends Might Not Always Understand the Illness and How to Support Mothers
On the show, we discussed how sometimes family doesn’t quite understand our feelings and this is when therapists can be especially helpful as they provide impartial and judgment-free advice. We also recognize that in the Latino community there can stigmas associated with mental health treatment that make it harder for women to seek help. This is why we believe that we need a movement to normalize conversations around postpartum mental health and it’s important to share our experiences so that women know they are not alone. If you have a new mother in your life here are some types of statements you should avoid:
“Why is the house the mess?”
“What are you doing all day?”
“How can you be sad, look at your beautiful baby?”
“But you wanted this baby, why are you feeling this way?”
Some people are also just uncomfortable with sad feelings and they won’t know how to handle a mother who is experiencing this. This is why it’s important to not be afraid to reach out to other mothers. This is one of the benefits of joining Motherhood support groups after having a baby, you can find solace and support from women experiencing similar feelings.
Postpartum Depression Isn’t the Only Mental Health Condition Mothers Can Suffer From
Our expert also noted that some women experience prenatal depression that can occur while a woman is pregnant, a very small percentage of women also suffer from postpartum psychosis which is a separate illness in which mothers lose touch with reality. The media often doesn’t differentiate between postpartum depression and psychosis which only makes it harder for women with postpartum depression to be open about their experiences.
Mothers can also suffer from postpartum anxiety and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder. While fears are normal for new mothers, the key is to observe if these feelings are going away on their own, and if they are interfering in your day-to-day activities. Anxiety can also lead to panic attacks which can feel like a heart attack. Here’s an example from PostpartumProgress.com:
You may be having disturbing thoughts. Thoughts that you’ve never had before. Scary thoughts that make you wonder whether you aren’t the person you thought you were. They fly into your head unwanted and you know they aren’t right, that this isn’t the real you, but they terrify you and they won’t go away. These thoughts may start with the words “What if …”
Women can suffer from both depression and anxiety.
How to Be Supportive to Other Mothers:
One of the first things that you can do for your loved ones who is experiencing feelings of depression is to say:
You’re not alone
You’re not to blame
With the right help, you will get better
Many mothers suffering from postpartum never receive proper screening encourage them to seek help if needed. Sometimes just coming over and saying let me help you get the baby in the stroller so we can go for a walk can be a huge help. While we often romanticize life with a new baby the reality can be much harder and so it’s important to have love and empathy. Let's also remember that sleep deprivation can be debilitating for new mothers.
What To Do If You Suspect You Are Suffering from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety
Find a support group
Sometimes it can take a few weeks to be able to obtain mental health support, in the meantime find something you used to like to and start doing it again. If you enjoyed getting your nails done or exercising it’s important you resume those activities remember you need to put your own oxygen mask on first.
Don’t feel guilty about missing your old life or finding that motherhood is routine and “boring.” These feelings are normal too.
Give yourself time to heal, don’t feel pressured to feel better fast or to put on a “brave face.” Do not feel guilty about your feelings, you are not to blame and admitting you need additional support also takes a lot of bravery.
Find activities that you enjoy that you can do with the baby. Don’t feel the need to sing baby songs all day, you can dance to Beyonce if that makes you feel good!
Finally, let’s all remember to have empathy, and model for people what we would want for ourselves. Motherhood is not a singular experience, we all feel and think differently and are learning one day at a time. Mommyhood isn’t a competitive sport. We are all in this together!
If you or someone you know suspects they are suffering from postpartum depression or need someone to talk to after delivering a baby please call 1.800.944.4773 or visit postpartum.net.
For information about finding a mental health provider in Los Angeles County please visit MaternalMentalHealthNow.Org