It is supposed to be a happy time; you may even have expected it to be the happiest time of your life. Your baby has arrived! This baby might be your first, making you a parent for the first time. It might not. Regardless, you probably have expectations about how this time of your life will go. The overwhelming love, joy, and closeness you will feel to your newborn. The fulfillment your new baby will bring to your life.
So what happens, then, when that expected outcome is not what you planned? What happens when you find yourself depressed, anxious, and disconnected from your baby? When you are overwhelmed by negative emotion, more exhausted than you have ever been, and feel desperately and achingly alone in the experience? You might reach out about your distress and be told that what you’re experiencing is just the shock of adjusting to your new reality. You might be told that you’re supposed to be emotional and tired and that’s what parenting is all about!
And while it is true that change takes effort to manage, and being the parent of a newborn is especially draining, that doesn’t mean that you should accept any dismissing of what you are going through. The fact is that you may be suffering from postpartum depression, and you are far from alone in your experience.
What is Postpartum Depression & Anxiety?
Postpartum Depression (PPD) and Anxiety are the body’s response to all of the hormonal changes following childbirth. PPD will begin to take hold within the first six weeks. But that doesn’t mean that everyone follows the same timeline. For some, PPD can appear anytime within the first 18 months of the child’s life. Between this expansive timeline and the writing-off of PPD as “baby blues,” there tends to be misinformation in our society that isolates new mothers. For example, if you are told that PPD can’t begin at 12 months and that it’s “just a bit of a bummer,” you may be woefully unprepared to recognize what is happening if you experience a massive depression at the 13-month mark.
Symptoms of PPD commonly include difficulty sleeping (during an already-sleepless time), mood swings, crying spells, and anxiety. These symptoms make a lot of sense to experience on some level following childbirth; a huge change has happened in so many ways. PPD may persist, however, and include a loss or excess of appetite, inability to bond with baby, thoughts of harm (against yourself and/or your baby) or suicide, and intense experiencing of anger, anxiety, panic, irritability, and fatigue. This is when your basic human needs seem to come last, even though you know that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Postpartum is as important a time as ever to keep on top of and support your mental health.
PPD can interfere with one’s first year of parenting in so many ways. The additional exhaustion of PPD fatigue alone can create an impossible living situation; human beings need rest to function. When depression sucks the energy out of someone who is already up in the night feeding, the situation becomes dire very quickly. This exhaustion can also exacerbate the other symptoms of PPD. Outside of feeling the strain of trying to parent through this experience, you may also feel heavy guilt that you are struggling, unhappy, don’t feel connected to your baby, or think about hurting your baby.
4 Ways to Manage Postpartum Mental Health
1. Know the signs when you have postpartum depression/anxiety:
It is important not to minimize it or feel like we are complaining. In actuality, we are struggling with a real mental health issue. This is not a scenario in which you should just tough it out or try to go it alone. Ask for help! Don’t let shame stop you from asking for help. Shame prevents us from reaching out because it tells us that we don’t deserve to feel better; we don’t deserve support. But that is not true.
You might not be sure how seriously PPD impacts you and wonder when to get help. Maybe you have heard repeatedly that being a parent is exhausting and thankless, and nothing can prepare you for it. This might have you feeling like you are probably going through “the usual”, and worrying that you’re a bad parent if you need help. Reach out to your doctor if and when: your symptoms don’t fade after a couple of weeks and/or are getting worse; you can’t complete everyday tasks; you can’t care for your baby; you have thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby. Any of these is a reason to seek support.
If people around you show concern, you may be inclined to feel judged and/or attacked. Hopefully, someone you trust and respect will be the person to approach you with compassion if they notice a change in your behavior or attitude. This person may have been through something similar and can hopefully validate your experience for you.
Medication may be beneficial to help improve your mental state. It may take a while to kick in and/or require increasing the dosage over time. The first antidepressant you try may not work; tell your doctor, and you can try a different one. If you are nursing, you might worry about how the medication will impact your breast milk. The odds are good that you will be able to continue to breastfeed, so just make sure to tell your doctor that you are nursing.
2. Communicate with your partner:
While it may seem like it is only you who is going through postpartum depression and anxiety, the whole family may also be suffering, which means that everyone needs to get involved to improve things. Your partner will likely be adjusting to the changes of being a parent as well and worried about how you are doing.
Hopefully, you can have an open and supportive dialogue with one another to find a solution. You might seek guidance from a therapist to facilitate these conversations if you are able. At a time when emotions are running high, it can be constructive to have a neutral third party to keep the conversation on track.
Your partner may not know how to help, and you may not be sure, either. Here are some things your partner can do to support you:
1) Validate your experience: Sometimes, when we are down, the other person’s attempt to cheer us up is to “find the silver lining.” This can feel incredibly hurtful, as if our problem isn’t even worth worrying about. It can also make us feel misunderstood and alone. By validating your experience, your partner will affirm to you that what you are struggling with is difficult, and it is completely understandable that you are having a hard time. Yes, there is always a time or place to celebrate small victories or appreciate little joys.
2) Ask for help around the house: Every partnership will have a slightly different situation. If you are formula feeding, then either parent can get up at night. But if you are healing from childbirth and nursing around the clock, the last thing you should be expected to do is throw the vacuum around. You may also be recovering from surgical childbirth, such as a caesarian section. Or have pre-existing health conditions that were made less manageable throughout your pregnancy. Hopefully, you and your partner can recognize and prioritize what needs to be done and who can best achieve it.
3. Make reasonable lifestyle changes:
When you feel exhausted at the mere thought of getting off the couch, making a lifestyle change may feel like a big ask. But we have to make some lifestyle changes to improve things; if we feel bad when doing what we’re doing, then we have to do something different. I would suggest that you begin with coping skills you have familiarity with. What are some of the self-care skills you enjoyed before? These are the skills that you can feel more comfortable reaching out for at a time when something familiar may be a welcome relief.
Suppose you are often the organizer and planner. In that case, if you are the person responsible for knowing when the events are, what is needed at the grocery store, when certain bills are due, etc., this is the time to unburden yourself from some of the mental load of motherhood. You have a specific task that requires your attention, and you need to attend to your self-care. Now is the time to let things go! Comfort yourself knowing that people empathize with parents being underwater in the first year of their child’s life. If the house isn’t as tidy, someone else has to organize the bake sale, and you have to eat off paper plates at some point because nobody ran the dishwasher, so be it.
Your basic self-care needs, such as eating, staying hydrated, bathing, and resting, might all seem like too much to ask of yourself. Remind yourself that they are not; you deserve to have your needs met, just like your baby does. If you have to eat a power bar while the baby is nursing, do it. If you have to have a jar of water next to your rocking chair so that you can always reach for it, do it. Nap while baby naps. Put baby in a carrier and take a shower with baby in the bathroom with you! This is essential, foundational self-care.
Yes, you might take stock of your previous self-care and see a list of things that seem impossible to achieve with the baby on board. There will be ways to include those things in time, but move them to the bottom of the list if you feel overwhelmed by them. There are many things that you can do with a bit of planning, a little luck, and some support. For example, if you enjoy curling up with a book, you can still find time to do that! Perhaps you choose to read a book of poems instead of full chapter novels for a while, while your mind is full of many new things. That’s still reading, and it’s still for you!
Include exercise slowly and surely. Movement is good for us; everyone’s individual ability will dictate which movement is best, postpartum or not. Being able to move your body in a way that feels good for you will help to boost your mood. If you can get out of the house to do it, the change of scenery and fresh air is also a benefit.
4. Have self-compassion:
Know that depression and anxiety around postpartum do not have to be addressed solely during the first 3 months after giving birth. Anytime during the first year (or more!), you may find your mood declining. Truthfully, there are so many adjustments to make. So, even if you struggle with your identity and body image as your child turns 2 or 3, you are not alone.
Being a parent is not an easy job. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that. Surround yourself with other parents who have been in your shoes. Make a point of rejecting the isolation that can come in this challenging time. If you struggle to reach out to others and ask for help, you may want to explore how to approach that in therapy practice here in Woodland Hills. You might be surprised to find out how accessible online sessions are; if you can’t make it to the office, you still have resources.
Take the time to acknowledge every victory throughout your day. It doesn’t matter how small. Talk to yourself and support yourself the way you would talk to and support your best friend. We can become so self-critical when we are inside a situation; we’d be cheering ourselves on from the outside! Create affirmations for the tricky time; “This is hard, but I can do hard things,” or, “This moment is a struggle, but it will pass.” Write them on a sticky note and put them in the mirror, make a voice memo and play it for yourself, and ask your partner to say your affirmations with you. Whatever it takes.
If it sounds like I am saying that navigating postpartum depression and anxiety will be simple, I am not. What I am saying is that it is possible. In the midst of your struggle, you might not be able to see how it would be, but it is. You deserve to reach out for and receive help and support. The first year of being a parent is a time of massive upheaval. Postpartum depression and anxiety add to this stress by creating physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that are beyond your control. You do not deserve to suffer at all, let alone on your own.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije, Ani Seferyan, AMFT, Cindy Sayani, AMFT, and Ani Seferyan, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.