For approximately 80% of new parents, the first two weeks following birth can be quite a hormonal affair. You and your new baby are trying to get to know each other. There are many struggles to connect with a new baby and to ensure that you can do this “parenting thing. The most common being lack of sleep, mood swings, irritability, and at times uncontrollable crying. And then there’s the breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding debate and whether or not the baby is getting enough to eat. Having a strong support system and time to adjust to parenthood is crucial to overcoming this normal “baby blues” period.
Postpartum mood disorders are the most common complication of childbirth. Approximately 20% of mothers will experience some form of postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety. Before I go any further, it is absolutely important to know that a) you are not alone, and b) none of this is your fault. While postpartum mood disorders can often leave you feeling inadequate, this simply is not true. You are NOT a bad parent and with treatment, your symptoms can improve. Treatment will vary based on your individual needs. It may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. It is also important to note that if you are suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, there is a 50% chance that your partner will also suffer from a similar disorder.
But what happens when the baby blues to not improve? What are the warnings signs of postpartum depression? When should you consider seeking professional help? To help answer these questions, I recently sat down with Bina Bird, MA, LMFT of Haslet Counseling.
Mrs. Bird highlighted the most common warning signs of postpartum depression with me. They include excessive crying, constant feelings of panic and/or nervousness, having difficulty in decision making, excessive guilt, feelings of hopelessness, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, obsessive thoughts, and even thoughts of death (yourself and your baby).
Research shows that if you are experiencing any of the following risk factors, you should discuss them with your medical provider so you can plan accordingly. According to Postpartum Support International risk factors and warning signs of postpartum depression include:
- Personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or postpartum depression
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD or PMS)
- Insufficient support in caring for yourself or your baby
- Experiencing financial and/or marital stress
- Experience with a complicated pregnancy or birth or are having difficulties with breastfeeding
- Recent major life event
- Parent to multiples
- Baby had to spend time in the NICU,
- Thyroid imbalance
- Any form of diabetes (type 1, type 2 or gestational)
As I mentioned earlier, postpartum anxiety (also known as perinatal anxiety) can also be prevalent in new mothers. Postpartum Support International lists the most common signs of postpartum anxiety. They include excessive worrying, continuous racing thoughts, sleep and appetite disturbances, the inability to sit still, physical symptoms such as dizziness and nausea, and a nagging feeling that the worst is going to happen. Risk factors for perinatal anxiety include a personal (or family) history of anxiety, previous bouts of perinatal anxiety, or thyroid imbalance.
It is important to trust your instincts, as you know yourself and your body better than anyone else. If you are experiencing ANY of these symptoms more than 2 weeks after giving birth, please seek out your medical provider or another medical professional.
What about managing postpartum depression? Self-care is not always easy after giving birth, but it is important for your mental state to find time to take care of YOU. Try to eat as nutritiously as possible – this not only helps you feel better, but should you decide to breastfeed it can help with building and maintaining your milk supply. Exercise is also important – go for daily walks. Fresh air is always a good thing and it’s good for both you and the baby to get outside. It is also important to avoid, or at least limit, your intake of substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Sleep is very important as well – while it is not always easy, try sleeping when the baby sleeps. It does not have to be every time the baby sleeps, but try to squeeze in an extra nap or two during the day.
If you are unsure if what you are feeling is normal, reach out to your medical care provider or seek out a therapist. Do NOT be afraid to ask your family and close friends for help. Sometimes we want to appear as “super parents” and give the perception that everything is under control, when in reality we’ve lost control and need help. The problem lies in the fact that friends and family may not see that you need the help. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of; it does not mean you are weak. We all need help from time to time, and support from friends and family is crucial during this time.
If you are reading this because you know a new parent that is experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, there are ways in which you can help. Encourage these new parents to get rest when possible and to take time to care for themselves. Offer to help with housework, cook meals, or help take care of the baby. New parents can catch a nap or even get a shower – both of which are great ways to relieve stress! If you are comfortable doing so, encourage the new parent(s) in your life to seek support. Let them know that postpartum mood disorders are treatable. Reiterate to them that they are not alone in their journey, that this is not their fault, and they are wonderful parents who deserve to enjoy this time with their newborn baby.
Following a birth, postpartum doulas are another wonderful resource for any family. Postpartum doulas are trained to understand the needs of both newborn babies and their parents. Generally available for both daytime and overnight shifts, doulas can offer parents feeding support, tips for soothing babies, and education on normal newborn behavior.
In conclusion, remember that for most new parents, some form of postpartum mood disorder is a normal part of the parenting process. You are NOT alone in this and there are many resources that can help you during this time. There are plenty of resources available to you – friends, family, medical professionals, therapists, and postpartum doulas. The key is going to be asking for help.
Bina Bird is a Licensed Therapist based out of Haslet, TX, that specializes in maternal mental health. If you are local to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and would like to schedule a free consultation or an appointment, you can contact Bina by going to www.hasletcounseling.com
For more information on postpartum doulas, go to www.dfwbirthresource.com