Becoming a Parent
Pregnancy, childbirth and becoming a parent are times of tremendous transition. Overwhelming physical and hormonal changes are coupled with sleep deprivation and new expectations and responsibilities. While we expect this to be a time of great joy, many women are unaware of the range of emotional reactions they are likely to experience. Most women experience some emotional stress after the birth of a child – the “blues.” For many, these responses are brief and resolve themselves on their own. Other women experience stronger reactions and require a supportive plan to address and alleviate their concerns.
Most women who experience difficult prenatal or postpartum reactions are aware that something is wrong, but are reluctant to seek help. Many women experience guilt and are afraid that they will be judged as not-good-enough moms. Some are concerned they will be prescribed medication at a time when they are pregnant or breastfeeding. These are important and legitimate concerns, but it is also important for each woman to remember that she is not alone in her experience.
Signs of Postpartum Stress
“Baby Blues” affect up to 80 percent of new moms and include frequent tearfulness, irritability, anxiety, and poor sleep. These symptoms usually occur within the first three days following birth and resolve within a few weeks.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) affects up to 20 percent of new mothers and is more debilitating than the “blues.” It can appear at any time in the first year after birth and is characterized by despondency, tearfulness, fatigue and feelings of inadequacy and guilt. It may include an over-concern about the baby or a lack of interest in the baby. Ranging from mild to severe, these symptoms may leave the mother feeling ashamed, withdrawn and unable to mobilize support for herself and the baby.
Postpartum Anxiety and/or Panic Disorder can include intense anxiety or fear, rapid breathing, chest pain and/or shaking and dizziness. It is experienced by up to 10 percent of new mothers.
Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts (sometimes including thoughts of harming the baby), compulsive behavior to avoid these thoughts, and anxiety and depression. It is experienced by 3 – 5 percent of new mothers.
Postpartum Psychosis (found in 0.1 percent of new mothers) is a serious but rare reaction which can include hallucinations, delusions, severe insomnia and extreme irritability. It usually occurs within hours or days after delivery and requires immediate medical attention.
Prenatal Stress Reactions are experienced by many women during pregnancy and following a miscarriage or termination of pregnancy. These responses can be very similar to postpartum blues and the range of other postpartum stress responses.
You can get help. Prenatal and postpartum emotional reactions are extremely responsive to professional care.
It is time to seek help when:
- Your symptoms interfere with your relationship with your baby and your family.
- You feel isolated and the support of family and friends is not enough.
- You believe that things are getting worse, not better.
If you are concerned that you are suffering from postpartum emotional stress, please feel free to contact me and we can do a brief assessment over the phone. You can click here for a brief on-line self-assessment using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.
Individual and Couples Therapy
I provide on-going or short term therapy, depending on your needs. Support and education for partners and other family members is also available. While women often find it difficult to seek the help they need while experiencing postpartum emotional distress, my experience is that psychotherapy provides tremendous relief and support during this crucial time of transition. Studies clearly indicate that the sooner a mother with a postpartum mood disorder receives treatment, the better the prognosis for the entire family.
You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.
-Postpartum Support International