As a mental health professional working with new mommies, I often wonder how I can make it easier for my clients to talk about concerns they may have about their mental health after the birth of their baby. Despite the progress that has been made in educating care providers and parents alike about Postpartum Depression (PPD), it is still widely under-reported. It is estimated that about 20% of mothers experience this complication of childbirth. This is most likely an inaccurate percentage as there is still a stigma about mental health disorders. In fact, I sometimes hear, “I had postpartum” from moms, possibly because saying depression may feel too scary or shameful to them.
I wonder if we called it something different like postpartum adjustment condition or the like, more women would discuss their symptoms. It may be more appropriate in fact because women may not feel depressed or have the classic depression symptoms. Mothers may feel manic or obsessive or intensely anxious and may confuse these feelings with the adjustment period that comes along with having a baby. Many moms experience a surge of adrenaline for a day or so after delivering a baby and for some it doesn’t go away. They can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, have obsessive thoughts that they desperately want to leave their minds and they just can not let anyone else take care of their baby.
Often breastfeeding struggles and postpartum mood concerns go hand in hand. Some moms are able to overcome these struggles and some are not, thus adding to their every growing feelings of guilt. They hear things like “breast is best” from well meaning people and sink further into the darkness. This is the crash course introduction to how devastating mother guilt can be to a woman’s spirit.
Many times mothers do feel the classic depression symptoms and it feels so terrible that they are more likely to reach out for help. Most of us mamas are educated about PPD but still terrified by it. We hope and pray that it will not visit us. The good news for all of us is that this experience is not shameful or an indication that we are crazy or are a bad mother. Our brain has simply been affected by the aftermath of postpartum hormones and at times a family history of mood disorders. It is a complication of childbirth that is very very treatable and many times doesn’t require medication. If you are a mama who needs to take medication and you are concerned about breastfeeding, it is often perfectly safe to continue. There are many care providers who are informed about safe drug choices for nursing mothers.
Even though it feels like you will never sleep again, this time is short and you won’t always feel this way. What’s important for you to know is that many mothers have traveled the path you are traveling and were able to recover. You will too. There is help available and many resources for moms who are struggling.
I’d like to close with one final thought. My wish for all new mothers is to form a sisterhood with one another. Maybe if we feel more comfortable talking about our worries and difficult feelings more mothers will follow and less women will suffer needlessly.
What are your thoughts?