Postpartum depression affects so many women! However, I find that the anxiety component is often not spoken about or not understood. Even if you don’t have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, postpartum anxiety can be severe and debilitating. But adding postpartum depression/anxiety to someone who already struggles with OCD or an anxiety disorder can feel unbearable. But, don’t lose hope! You just need to engage in behavioral therapy and your loved ones will need to learn how to support you until symptoms subside.
Symptoms commonly reported to me by patients who experience postpartum anxiety include: panic attacks, rapid thoughts, severe rumination, tearfulness, a feeling of desperation, fear of being alone, fear of going crazy, hopelessness, overall restlessness, just to name a few. Suicidal ideation is painfully common among women who struggle with postpartum depression! Women who once were very independent and confident will tearfully explain that they fear they have lost their ability to take care of themselves and their newborn baby. They also feel embarrassed about having family members and friends see them in such a vulnerable state. Then the worst happens, mommy guilt!
Feelings of guilt are powerful! Clients will feel guilty that they are not enjoying their baby as much as they thought. They feel guilty for having to depend on their spouse and loved ones more. They feel guilty that the entire experience is not going as planned. Then, if medication is needed, they feel guilty because they might stop breastfeeding. This kind of guilt can be dangerous and this is where family members need to know how to support you in the best way possible. You deserve it! It is the family members’ responsibility to lift you up until your anxiety/depression subsides. And it will!
Ask for Help!
My message to you: depend more on your spouse, your friends, your community! You are not crazy! Because this is so common, many of the mothers around you can empathize with your pain because they have gone through something similar, even if the severity may have been different. If your spouse does not know what to do, he or she needs to become educated and involved in your treatment. The ability to empathize/sympathize, express compassion, and provide support can all be learned and will greatly enhance your current state.
Treatment: You Will Get Better
Behavioral therapy is a must. For those struggling with postpartum anxiety/depression without a previous diagnosis of OCD or an anxiety disorder, behavior activation would be utilized. Behavior activation is just a fancy way of saying that your therapist will get you out doing things that once brought you joy. This process is done in a deliberate way. Getting out of the house daily and being around people is imperative. For those of you who also have OCD or an anxiety disorder, exposure therapy would also be implemented once the depression becomes stable. Just like any diagnosis, medication might be appropriate depending on severity. I’m able to provide referrals for psychiatry if needed.
Breastfeeding is amazing and wonderful for many women. If you can do it, that is fantastic! However, if you are truly struggling with severe symptoms of depression/anxiety and medication is appropriate, please know that your baby needs a healthy mom before he or she needs your breastmilk. Speak with your OB or psychiatrist and ask what your medication options are while breastfeeding. If you choose to discontinue breastfeeding, it’s important to know that women often go through a grieving process when they discontinue breastfeeding prior to feeling ready to do so. I get it. I really do! Keep in mind that breastfeeding is not an indicator of your worthiness as a mom or the love you have for your child. It is not selfish to put your mental health first before breastfeeding your baby! It’s the love of your child that helps motivate you to get the help you deserve even if that help ends up affecting your ability to breastfeed.
If you wish to learn more about treatment or are just unsure whether you really need treatment, feel free to give me a call or send me an email. Even if you end up not doing treatment with me, I’d be more than happy to give you some information. I never want a new mom to suffer in silence. The depression and anxiety will not last forever. You will soon experience the joy of motherhood well before your child has his or her first temper tantrum!
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