Postpartum mood disorders vary from the barely disordered “baby blues” to the very scary postpartum psychosis. Almost everyone will experience some mood changes after having a baby.
After my first was born, I had repeated and intrusive thoughts of my baby being harmed. Everything I looked at was a threat to my baby. I thought I was going crazy, that if I told someone they’d take my baby away. Finally I told my friend who is a psych nurse at Mayo Clinic. She said, “Yeah, that’s a thing. Get help.”
When I went to my first appointment with a therapist who specializes in mama issues, she told me it wasn’t uncommon, and gave me some things to try. Just having her tell me I wasn’t crazy, and that others had the same thoughts, made the problem diminish 50%.
Postpartum mood disorders are common, and luckily, they are all treatable.
Here are ways you might feel:
1. The Baby Blues
After you give birth, you experience a large hormone rearrangement that can affect your mood. I’ve heard it called “opening of the heart.” It’s overwhelming when your heart opens so wide to let another person in. It’s the first time you love unconditionally (since your own mother).
Caring for a newborn is exhausting and life-changing. Most people will feel the upheaval of the transition. Be nice to your loved ones and patient with yourself. Like all transitions, it’s hard, but it’s temporary.
2. Postpartum Depression
It’s always good to have a partner, parent, or friend looking out for you postpartum in case the baby blues should cross into more serious territory. You can find checklists for postpartum depression in every baby book and online.
There’s often a good amount of guilt or shame that comes with postpartum mood issues because we expect ourselves and each other to be happy about a new baby. We feel that we’re inadequate as mothers because we can’t even be pleased with the existence of our little one. This kind of thinking is flawed and only makes recovery harder. If your low mood is affecting your daily life and your ability to do what you need and want to do, ask your midwife or doctor for a referral to a good therapist. You want one specializing in mama issues, who has worked with postpartum mood troubles before.
2. Postpartum Anxiety/OCD
Maybe you tend toward anxiety, or maybe you never had an anxious thought in your life, but days after the birth you became consumed with worry about your baby’s health or safety. Some amount of worry and concern is normal and biologically healthy, but if it feels insidious or interferes with your daily life, there’s help for that.
Some people find themselves doing baby care duties or safety checks far beyond what is required or typical.
Maybe it feels like you’re possessed, like you have thoughts that aren’t yours and you can’t really control. That could be postpartum OCD. Repetitive thoughts that are intrusive make mothering hard. You can get help! Again, find a therapist who specializes in mama/baby issues.
3. Postpartum Psychosis
In the very rare psychosis, women lose touch with reality. They hear voices, remember things that didn’t happen, or imagine threats that aren’t there. Logic does not convince them that all is well. These women need more help (usually pharmacological), and can get relief from hospital stays. Again, it’s exceedingly rare.
4. Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Sometimes women have PTSD-like symptoms after a difficult birth. Some are reacting to the way they were treated while giving birth or pregnant, some have memories that are disturbing, and some are recovering from substantial amounts of fear they experienced. No matter what the trauma looks like, the experience is similar to others with PTSD including triggers and flashbacks.
Psychotherapy or hypnotherapy can help as well as practicing methods such as EMDR and EFT.
Who gets postpartum mood disorders?
Anyone who recently had a baby can suffer from postpartum mood trouble. Folks from all socio-economic groups, colors, family statuses, and age brackets are susceptible. Anyone presenting with depression-like symptoms within months of giving birth will be examined for postpartum mood disorders.
For some, getting prescription help will be best. For most, finding a good therapist makes the experience shorter and less intense. Families report that when suffering from postpartum mood disorders, they just need time and support. Try Postpartum Progress and SOLACE for Mothers.
One of the main things we need postpartum to avoid mood trouble or worse is more sleep. If you’ve recently had a baby and feel the darkness coming upon you or feel like you’re spiralling out of control, prioritize sleep. Can someone else care for the baby for 3-4 hours while you get sleep in another room?
Talking about postpartum mood disorders is important. Tell your story, your truth, and your trouble. Let others know they are not alone, while also getting support from your loved ones.