Mother and Newborn

You Are Not Alone – A Guide to Understanding Postpartum Mental Health

In Parenting, Therapy by Broghan Gamble

Information gathered from therapeutic experience and professional training provided by Postpartum Support International.

With the abundance of emotions that occur after a baby is born, it can sometimes be difficult to identify which parts will go away on their own and which parts need some more attention. Many individuals experience a decline in their mental health after their baby arrives, but most of them don’t understand why and don’t know what to do about them. Most of all, they feel alone. If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum mental health, the first thing that you must know is that you are not alone!

1 in 5 women are affected by postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

Similarly, 1 in 10 men are also affected by anxiety and depression symptoms during the postpartum period.

Maternal mental health is often neglected and becomes secondary to the baby’s needs or other medical issues after birth. However, given its prevalence, maternal mental health should be at the forefront of the conversation when discussing postpartum health in general.

The Prevalence

The high percentage of mothers who are impacted by postpartum anxiety or depression makes postpartum mental health issues the number one complication of birth in the United States.

Every year, 400,000 infants are born to depressed mothers, which often impacts their ability to properly care for their infant. Postpartum anxiety and depression are widely underdiagnosed in the US, with postpartum depression being the most underdiagnosed obstetric complication.

Given its prevalence, it is highly concerning that maternal mental health is so easily put on the back burner. The neglect of these issues is detrimental to the mother and baby.

What is it?

Postpartum mental health can be referred to as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD). Mothers who are affected by PMADs may experience symptoms beginning two weeks after their birth experience.

It is important to understand that if left untreated, mothers can continue to experience symptoms for years during their postpartum journey.

Possible PMAD symptoms:

  • feelings of guilt or shame
  • feeling hopeless
  • lack of interest or connection to the baby
  • feelings of anger or rage
  • scary or unwanted thoughts
  • loss of joy or pleasure
  • disturbance of sleep or appetite
  • crying or sadness
  • constant worry
  • racing thoughts
  • thoughts of harming self or baby
  • physical symptoms like dizziness or nausea

When discerning whether or not a PMAD is present, it is important to understand the difference between a potential PMAD (which presents in a variety of ways) and what is termed “baby blues.”

Baby blues refers to the time period right after birth and typically lasts between 2 days to two weeks after birth. Baby blues affects most postpartum birthing people, with about 60-80% of people experiencing it worldwide.

The symptoms of baby blues and some PMADs, particularly postpartum depression, are very similar. If a birthing person is experiencing the baby blues, it is essential to understand that this is normal.

However, if the symptoms do not subside within two weeks, it is likely that the person is experiencing PMAD.

If your symptoms last longer than two weeks after birth, then it is NOT simply the baby blues! It won’t just go away unless you do something.

Why Does It Happen?

PMADs can impact anyone at any time. PMADs do not discriminate!

There are several compounding factors that can lead to developing a PMAD. One of the most prominent reasons is related to the significant hormone fluctuations that occur during and after birth.

During pregnancy, hormones like progesterone, estradiol, cortisol, and prolactin gradually increase over time and peak during birth.

Right after birth, most of these hormones plummet. While prolactin and oxytocin consistently fluctuate in the postpartum period due to lactation. Given the fluctuations in hormones and the significant drop in hormones after birth, there is no wonder why so many women are left with mental health issues during postpartum. There are many more individual risk factors that have been correlated with developing a PMAD during the postpartum journey.

Postpartum mental health risk factors:

  • history of anxiety or depression
  • thyroid imbalance
  • diabetes
  • lack of social support
  • pregnancy or delivery complications
  • pregnancy loss
  • financial stress
  • abrupt discontinuation of breastfeeding
  • history of abuse
  • unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

What Can You Do?

There are many things that people can do to improve their mental health during the postpartum period.

First, therapy can be influential in improving mental health during the postpartum period. Whether it is individual or couples counseling, the therapy process can bring healing.

Looking for a therapist trained in pregnancy and postpartum issues is important. Other aspects that can be helpful in the healing process include things like medication, exercise, a healthy diet, stress reduction techniques, yoga, and meditation.

Tactics utilized to improve overall health and wellness often make a difference in healing. Above all, there is hope, and with the proper treatment, things can get better.

Broghan Gamble specializes in women’s and minority issues as well as self-esteem improvement. She has specific training and is specialized in pregnancy and birth trauma. Set up an appointment with Broghan.

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