Postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression are so often dismissed!
After my first baby was born, I had the typical emotional roller coaster for a few weeks. But by 4 or 5 months, it seemed I was becoming even more anxious. I didn’t think much of it, and I powered through.
After my second daughter was born, I was a wreck. I was terrified of being left at home alone with two children. I was angry every time my husband’s job kept him late. And I was constantly lashing out at my toddler because I was so stressed.
After about 3 or 4 months of my stress levels being through the roof, I realized something had to change. I sought help, and I learned that yes, I was suffering from postpartum anxiety.
How prevalent is postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety?
PPA and PPD are very common. In fact, up to one in seven mothers face postpartum depression after birth. On top of that, seventeen percent of mothers (or more, depending on who you ask) experience postpartum anxiety.
It’s not enough to just assume, “Well, it’s hormones, I’m supposed to feel this way,” and keep carrying on. Yes, it’s true that most mothers experience “baby blues” during the first few weeks after birth, but postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety go deeper than that, and can occur later.
What do you do when you’re overwhelmed by new motherhood
If you’re reading this post and looking for help, get support! I talked to my psychologist friend, Dr. Marcy Rowland, about the common emotional difficulties that new mothers face and how to get help. Check out the interview below!
When to seek counseling
I think what surprised me most during this interview was when I asked Marcy about when someone should ask for help.
The answer? After only two weeks of feeling down or anxious.
I was floored! I just struggled through alone after my first child, and I fought anxiety for months after my second was born before I went to see someone.
When can PPA or PPD start?
I didn’t even realize I was dealing with postpartum anxiety with either of my girls, because it didn’t really hit until they were four or five months old. But research shows that PPD and PPA can develop anywhere from a few weeks to as late as a year after birth.
Unfortunately, PPA and PPD that occurs later than six weeks postpartum can be totally missed by your healthcare team. For many of us in the US, we go to see the OB six weeks after delivery, where they ask you if you’re feeling depressed (anxiety is often ignored completely). After that, you’re dismissed and it’s assumed that you’re okay.
After three children, I have found that I consistently become more anxious (and irritable) around 4-6 months postpartum. Knowing this, I try to give extra grace to my kids (and myself) during this time.
RELATED: Stop yelling and be a calmer mom
Some day-to-day signs that you’re suffering from PPA or PPD
Much of the time, we expect that you should have over-the-top symptoms for PPA or PPD. We’ve heard of symptoms like crying every day, waking up with panic attacks, or maybe losing interest in life, but there are other less-obvious symptoms.
Maybe you’re at the same place as I was, just dealing with the painful feelings alone, figuring you should just “get over it” but not being able to.
Fear that “something bad” is going to happen to baby
The thing that finally made me realize that I had to get help was a panic attack in the middle of the night. I was worried that my infant would stop breathing, and I had to watch her to make sure she was okay. Unfortunately, I had moments like that for several nights.
If you have a fear that you suspect is irrational, ask your partner or a trusted friend. For example, with my third (right before I finally started anti-anxiety meds), I had a strong fear that someone might break in and attack my children (there were some background things going on during that time that triggered this fear, but that’s a different story for a different day).
RELATED: Is it safe to take antidepressants while breastfeeding?
I talked to a friend about it, saying, “Can you tell me honestly if this is a real possibility or not? Because I’m really not sure.” She reassured me that my worry was very unlikely, but it also helped me realize that my anxiety had taken a major spike.
By the way: If you experience this, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you are failing. Don’t judge yourself for it; just go get help.
Having a hard time adjusting to life with baby
You had figured you should be able to keep the house extra clean and cook more and finally do that side hustle you’ve always thought about now that you’re on maternity leave, but it’s all you can do just to make it to the end of the day.
You might be dealing with a lot of self-judgement about how you aren’t accomplishing all the things you wanted to do. I remember when I was three or four weeks postpartum, I had tried to vacuum. That extra activity ramped up my postpartum bleeding, so I realized I should leave that task for my husband. I cried because I felt so awful about being “useless.”
Of course, I was back to better physical health within a few weeks. If you have a hard time remembering how temporary your setbacks are, you might need extra emotional and mental support.
Afraid to talk to loved ones about your feelings
You’re terrified to tell your partner how you feel. How would he react? What would he think of you?
Or maybe you’re afraid everyone around you would think you were crazy if they knew all the thoughts that run through your head. Again, don’t worry about judgement, just find someone who is actually helpful and talk to them.
Not feeling attached to baby
Or maybe you’ve had this baby for a few days, a few weeks, or even longer, and you really just don’t feel attached to her. But you can’t tell anyone, because you’ve got so much shame and guilt about it.
Feelings like this are actually more common than you’d think. Don’t beat yourself up over them, but if they continue, get help.
How to overcome PPA and PPD
Once you realize you are dealing with postpartum anxiety or depression, it’s time to deal with it. Here are some ways to help you overcome your symptoms.
Replace your negative thoughts
It takes time, but I’ve found that a HUGE factor in getting through my anxiety was to replace the negative thoughts.
You can’t do this.
You’re no good at this.
You’re a bad parent.
You’re never going to do better.
These thoughts do not serve you and don’t get you out of your painful state. But when I started replacing these thoughts with more empowering statements, things really started to change for me.
A simple one that I love?
I can calm my body.
I focus on my breathing, make a point of relaxing my body, and take a moment (yes, even if the baby is crying). Telling myself this statement (and then following through) gives me a sense of control and helps me handle my situation better.
Want more empowering statements to help you turn the tide of negativity? Get the Mindful Mamas and Connected Kids toolkit! It includes Mama Mantras to help you stay calm and other resources to help you on your respectful parenting journey.
Here’s the thing: Just sitting on all these negative emotions won’t make them better. And sometimes, we just need an outside perspective to help us work through our pain and fears.
Do you have a supportive friend or family member you could go to? Open up to them. Or open up to your partner about your feelings! It might be scary, but you will likely be surprised to find out how understanding he is.
Or, like Marcy said in the video, don’t be afraid to find professional help. It doesn’t mean you’re broken, or a failure, or whatever other label; going to therapy just shows that you’re wise and strong enough to take care of yourself.Going to therapy doesn't mean you're broken, or a failure; it just shows that you're wise and strong enough to take care of yourself.
Don’t be afraid to take antidepressants
Antidepressants may become part of your treatment plan. As my doctor tells me, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. You wouldn’t look down on a diabetic for using insulin, why should you be embarrassed of needing a medication to help balance your neurotransmitters?
And don’t be afraid of using them while breastfeeding. I have a whole post on the safety of antidepressants while nursing that you can check out for more info.
RELATED: Is it safe to take antidepressants while breastfeeding?
Find a tribe
Getting together with a group of moms who have been there can be life changing. That’s why we have Evidence-Based Parents, our Facebook group for parents who want to support each other through the ups and downs of life with kids.
Join us. We look forward to seeing you there!