Author: Jane Rolander, LCSW
We need to talk about postpartum.
Maybe you’ve heard of “the baby blues” or postpartum depression. If that doesn’t sound familiar maybe you’ve heard of Andrea Yates, a Texas woman who in 2001 drowned her 5 children in the bathtub as a result of postpartum psychosis. Yates remains committed in a State Psychiatric Hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. While postpartum psychosis is rare, postpartum depression is not.
According to Postpartum Progress, 15% of women (1 in 7) get postpartum depression (PPD) after childbirth. Women of lower socioeconomic status are at greater risk, and that rate jumps to 25%. This means it’s more likely that more than 800,000 women a year have PPD. Men get postpartum too, it’s estimated that anywhere between 1%-26% of new fathers also suffer from PPD. In the United States, postpartum depression is one of the leading causes of annual reported infanticide incidence rate of about 8 per 100,000 births.
But no one talks about it.
For one thing, the causes of PPD are not widely known. Theories include hormonal changes, genetics and significant life changes (you just pushed a child out of your vagina) as root causes. There is an extensive list of risk and protective factors being researched to determine who is more likely to develop PPD, but the reality is that everyone having children is at risk..
Many women don’t know the signs and symptoms of PPD. The signs of Postpartum Depression include sleep and appetite problems, trouble concentrating, lack of interest in the baby, irritation/anger, constant feelings of being overwhelmed, or thoughts of running away and escaping. If they do know the signs of PPD, they may not know about other perinatal mood disorders such as postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, or postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum anxiety involves excessive worries about the baby, lack of sleep, and lack of appetite. You may worry that something is wrong with the baby, that you’re doing something to harm them, or that something bad is going to happen to them. Postpartum OCD is related to anxiety, but results in compulsive rituals to prevent harm from coming to the baby that intrude on daily life. Postpartum PTSD often comes after a traumatic childbirth that is re-experienced in intrusive thoughts or nightmares. And postpartum psychosis involves hallucinations or delusions (like Yates thinking her children were possessed by the devil).
I should note that postpartum psychosis is a PSYCHIATRIC EMERGENCY and should be taken very seriously. Everyone experiences PPD differently, making it challenging to diagnose and easier for women to feel like they are the only one who have had this issue. Your symptoms may be different from your mom’s or your friend’s symptoms.
Many of my clients tell me that they don’t want to talk about what they are experiencing after childbirth because they don’t want people to think they’re a bad mom. Or even worse, they think what they’re going through is because they’re a bad mom. They think they’re doing something wrong, that they don’t love their child, that there’s something wrong with them and therefore they should hide it. Many feel guilty and ashamed for not experiencing overwhelming love for their child and not being able to be super mom, or to breastfeed, or to get their child to stop crying.
When they do talk about it, many women’s concerns get written off as the baby blues and normal new mom experiences; they’re told “every new mom goes through this” and “you’ll get used to it.” This feedback comes from everyone: friends, family, partners, and medical providers. Many OB/GYNs spend so much time attending to physical health before, during, and after delivery that they neglect the mental health aspect.
The baby blues are very normal adjustment period after having a baby, and about 60-70% of women experience them. However, they typically go away after about 2 weeks. Perinatal mood disorders can occur at any time during the first 12 months after delivery. Many doctors think PPD can only occur the first few weeks after delivery, this is just plain wrong and another reason PPD is often misdiagnosed or ignored altogether.
It’s time we break down the stigma. It’s time we start trusting women and their experiences. It’s time we stop expecting new moms to do it all without support from their community. It’s time we start realizing that this is a common experience and that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s time we start taking mom’s (and dad’s) concerns seriously and give them help and support.
We need to talk about postpartum.If you or someone you know is suffering from PPD or any other perinatal mood disorder, you’re not alone. Help is available, talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing. If they don’t listen, talk to someone else. You can also visit www.postpartumprogress.com for more information and community support.