Postpartum Mental Health & What New Moms Need to Know
Ask for Help if you need it!
By Susana Marquez, Mommy In Los Angeles® Magazine Wellness Contributor and Founder, Me, Myself & Mommy
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is a good time to remind us about the importance of addressing any shift in our mental stability when we become moms.
But we must continue to have conversations year-round, about the different types of illnesses, their symptoms and how mothers can obtain the right help should they experience any change in mood, optimism or general outlook on life. Each mom experiences the postpartum phase differently. Some have no changes in their mental and emotional well-being, while others, myself included, go through difficult and dark times. Here is brief description of various maternal mental health conditions that can make pregnancy and the postpartum period seem overwhelming and discouraging:
About 80% of mothers experience the “baby blues” after having a child. The baby blues usually last 2 weeks after giving birth. Symptoms consist of crying, even weeping for no apparent reason. They also include feeling impatient, restless, easily irritated, sad and varying levels of mood changes and poor concentration. If two weeks have passed and symptoms persist or worsen, it’s a good idea to seek help.
This can often feel like a type of overwhelming anxiety. Women may experience deep sadness, crying spells, disruptions in sleep and appetite. Moms may feel disoriented and confused. In some cases, moms feel emotionally detached from their infant and describe the sensation of as not feeling emotionally connected to their child. They may feel extremely inadequate, causing feelings of an inability to cope with motherhood and/or terrified about the prospect of being left alone with the baby. Mothers often feel as though they won't know how to handle basic tasks such as care for their crying infant. Postpartum depression may also cause moms to feel hopeless; guilt-ridden and even convince that another person would be better at caring for their child.
This can arrive with physical symptoms, such as dizziness, hot flashes, rapid heartbeat and an inability to be calm and focus on a particular task. With postpartum anxiety, moms may experience an irrational sense of fear that feel debilitating and leads to panic attacks and changes in eating and sleeping habits. This condition may interfere with normal day-to-day activities.
Some women with perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder may have scary and intrusive mental images, including thoughts of hurting their children. Due to the nature of these dark, repetitive and intrusive thoughts, moms often take extreme steps to avoid dreaded outcomes. These steps are often in the form of compulsive behaviors in order to relieve the anxiety, including, but not limited to, constantly checking and monitoring the baby’s breathing, counting, cleaning, and obsessing over hygiene-related issues.
Although postpartum psychosis is rare— it occurs in only 1-2% of women after giving birth— it’s a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate attention to safeguard the life of mother and infant. A postpartum psychotic episode may include hallucinations, paranoia, severe confusion and mania. Moms may become delusional, hearing non-existing voices inciting them to hurt their child. This condition should never be confused with postpartum depression. It is an illness separate from other conditions as it implies a break with reality.
Perinatal Panic Attacks
Panic attacks strongly resemble the symptoms of a heart attack— pressure on the chest, difficulty breathing, palpitations, dizziness, numbness and tingling.
Perinatal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Unexpected events during pregnancy or childbirth can be perceived as traumatic for some new moms. For others, the act of giving birth may be a traumatic reminder of earlier life events, like sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Perinatal PTSD may include nightmares, flashbacks and an unpredictable mood.
Fellow moms, the most important thing is to ask for help if you need it! You are not alone and if you experience any of the above conditions, know that you are not bad mother. I would advise that you inform your primary care physician if you start feeling any of the symptoms described.
If you are not comfortable opening up to your physician, you can seek support from Postpartum Support International at http://www.postpartum.net or call 1-800-944-4773.