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What all mothers should know about depression and anxiety after having a baby
Society tells us that our hearts should always be bursting with joy as we begin the blissful journey of motherhood. The truth is, that’s not always the case. Like prenatal depression and anxiety, postpartum depression and anxiety are very common, but not widely discussed.
Postpartum depression and anxiety are mood disorders that occur after having a child, and they impact about 10-20% of childbearing women. They typically begin within four weeks after giving birth. There is a big hormone crash that occurs 8-10 days after birth that many women struggle with. However, postpartum depression and anxiety can also present within the first year or two as the mind and body adjust to the many changes of having a baby.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Jenny Shully and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Amanda Gordon, the founders of The Haven Group, share their knowledge on these conditions to help you better understand what you’re experiencing.
Signs and Symptoms
While many women believe that they’re just experiencing “the baby blues,” postpartum depression and anxiety can present in a variety of ways. Symptoms typically include:
- Prolonged crying and feelings of hopelessness
- Intense guilt
- Difficulty sleeping
- Rapid mood swings
- Loss of pleasure
- Thoughts of harming the baby
- Lack of feelings for the baby
- Sleep disturbances
- Eating disturbances
- Constant and debilitating worry
- Racing thoughts
- Fear that something bad is going to happen
Postpartum anxiety is often demonstrated as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Panic attacks are also a form of postpartum depression and anxiety. It can be difficult for women and their families to distinguish between hormonal changes and deeper depression after a baby arrives. Even if depression is low-lying, it’s still depression and deserves proper treatment!
Women who experience prenatal depression and anxiety may be more susceptible to postpartum depression and anxiety; however, anxiety and depression do not always occur in both stages. It depends on a variety of factors, including the labor and delivery experience, support systems in place after the baby arrives and mental health treatment received during pregnancy. The important thing is to seek treatment when you first think you may need it!
Treating Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
Unfortunately, there is a stigma surrounding these conditions, which makes mothers feel like they have to hide their experience or downplay their emotional and mental well-being. Untreated mood disorders can lead to greater issues, including effects on the attachment process between mom and baby, so it’s important to speak up when you’re feeling off.
Start by taking this screening test, then reach out for help. Even if you’re not experiencing true postpartum depression and anxiety, extra support from professionals will help. Some women benefit from prescription medications, and there are breastfeeding-safe medications available. Both mood disorders respond very well to therapy, and women who receive treatment often feel relief relatively quickly!
If you’re concerned that a loved one may be experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety, express concern and offer to help. Most new moms benefit from:
- A non-judgmental ear to hear her concerns, sadness, worries, etc.
- Help with taking care of household chores or errands
- Help with the baby or other children
- Encouragement with self-care
- A break to take a nap
- A list of local resources (mom groups, therapy providers, support groups)
Try locating support groups in your area. It can be so helpful to find other women who are having similar experiences! Some top resources include:
The Haven Group
Based in Chicago, The Haven Group offers a range of support for family members from the early stages of family planning through the transitions into new roles and dynamics. They aim to provide comprehensive care that goes beyond the range of a typical mental health professional. As therapists and former birth and postpartum doulas, their clinicians have unique perspectives on the challenges that women and their families can face in the prenatal and postpartum periods. They offer counseling services and strive to assist individuals and families in identifying and managing family issues that may be challenging. For more information, contact Jenny and Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org.