It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders

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postpartum disorders

If someone asked what the most common complication of childbirth was, what would you say? Diabetes? Preeclampsia? Nope. Guess again. Believe it or not, the number one complication related to childbearing is a mental health disorder. Yes, you read that right. The reality is 1 in 7 moms (some statistics suggest it is 1 in 5) will experience a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder such as Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD), Bipolar Disorder, or Psychosis.

And although experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder is super common, it is not normal. Just as having high blood pressure is common but not normal. And mental health, just like physical health, shouldn’t be ignored. It is okay not to be okay. And speaking up or asking for help may be the bravest thing you can do.

Here are some symptoms highlighting the most common Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders:

Anxiety Symptoms

  • agitated
  • inability to sit still
  • excessive concern about baby’s or own health
  • high alert
  • appetite changes
  • sleep disturbances
  • constant worry
  • racing thoughts
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations

Depression Symptoms

  • sadness, crying
  • unexplained physical complaints
  • suicidal thoughts
  • appetite changes
  • sleep disturbances
  • poor concentration/focus
  • irritability and anger
  • hopeless and helpless
  • guilt and shame

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Symptoms

  • intrusive/unwanted repetitive thoughts (usually of harm coming to the baby)
  • horrified by thoughts
  • tremendous guilt and shame (particularly if thoughts are about mom causing harm to the baby)
  • moms engage in behaviors to avoid harm or minimize triggers

(*thoughts DO NOT equal action)

Bipolar Symptoms

Bipolar I (at least one-lifetime episode of mania)

  • elevated mood (euphoria or agitation)
  • decreased need for sleep
  • racing thoughts
  • increased productivity
  • pressured speech
  • increased energy

Bipolar II (one or more major depressive episodes with one or more episodes of hypomania- less pronounced mania)

  • one or more episodes of Major depressive episode
  • one or more episodes of hypomania (less pronounced mania)
  • a distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood

Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD) Symptoms

  • re-experiencing the traumatic event (flashbacks, dreams, spontaneous memories)
  • avoidance of triggers
  • isolation from family & friends
  • “emotional numbing”
  • hyperarousal/hypervigilance
  • persistent and distorted sense of blame
  • diminished interest in activities
  • inability to remember key aspects of events
  • negative thoughts and mood

Psychosis Symptoms

  • delusions (e.g., baby is possessed)
  • hallucinations (seeing someone else’s face instead of baby’s face, hearing voices)
  • insomnia
  • confusion/disorientation
  • rapid mood swings
  • waxing and waning (can appear and feel normal for stretches of time)

(*Psychosis is considered a medical emergency. Seek help immediately)

If you feel yourself struggling as a mom or new mom, please visit Postpartum Support International for a list of resources and trained professionals in your area, or you can reference the Fairfield County Mom roundup of local support services

You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help and support, you will be well. It’s okay not to be okay. 

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Alisa is a psychotherapist, life coach and mom of three. Alisa is a native of Fairfield County and lives with her husband (a New York transplant), daughter (October 2012) and two sons (January 2015, June 2018). Following the birth of her second child, Alisa left her full-time job and pursued her dream of starting her own private practice by founding Balanced Being Counseling, LLC and Balanced Being Coaching, LLC (abalancedbeing.com) located in downtown Fairfield. Alisa specializes in working with young women and moms to decrease stress and manage feelings of anxiety and depression. She is trained in treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and is an active committee member of Postpartum Support International- CT Chapter serving as the Communications Chair. Alisa is the creator the Facebook Group, Balanced Mama, a non-judgmental space for moms to feel inspired, gain support and come together among the chaos. She is passionate about motherhood, supporting women, buffalo chicken and a good margarita.

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