Support for New Moms: How to Handle Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Having a baby is exciting and overwhelming. You’ve added a new member to your family. You’ve also become the caretaker of a demanding newborn, who sleeps sporadically, cries often and arrived without an instruction manual. You’re sleep-deprived, unsure whether you’re doing a good job, and your overactive hormones make everything feel worse. It’s no wonder that one in five women develop postpartum depression or anxiety. Read on to get the facts – and some help.

Baby blues or postpartum depression?

Within a week of having a baby, many new moms feel a dip in mood, called the “baby blues.” They may cry often, feel overwhelmed, lose their appetites or have trouble sleeping. Typically, the feelings fade within a week or two.

“It’s often due to shifts in hormones and sleep deprivation and a major lifestyle change,” says Sara Mertz, a midwife at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Postpartum depression and anxiety tend to develop later and last longer. Treatment can help resolve them more quickly, so it’s important to seek help.

“The onset will be anywhere from one to six months after delivery, up to a year,” Mertz says. “Most women start feeling better by a year after delivery, but it’s hopefully much sooner than that, with proper care.”

Besides experiencing changes to their eating or sleeping habits, women with postpartum depression may feel sad and hopeless, and lose interest in friendships, favorite activities or caring for the baby.

“It’s a general feeling of hopelessness and not feeling like this is going to get better,” Mertz says. She adds that very few new moms think about hurting themselves or their babies, but these thoughts occasionally happen.

Women with postpartum anxiety may worry constantly, feel impending doom or have intrusive thoughts such as a fear of kidnapping or of the stroller rolling away.

“It’s something that women struggle to bring to the attention of their OB-GYN provider or primary care provider,” Mertz says. “They don’t want people to think they’re thinking that something could happen.”

If you’ve had depression or anxiety or if the conditions run in your family, you’re at greater risk of postpartum depression or anxiety. Having a high-risk pregnancy, losing a previous pregnancy or experiencing trauma may increase your risk.

You may also experience postpartum depression or anxiety if the baby needs to be hospitalized or is admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, Mertz says.

Getting help

Some women notice a problem but don’t seek help, so it’s important for others to be vigilant. To identify issues early, many pediatricians at well-baby visits ask new moms about their mental health. Family members also are key to recognizing problems.

“Partners or relatives will be open and say, ‘Something’s just not right – why don’t we go and talk to somebody?’” Mertz says. “It’s a physiologic event that a woman can’t control.”

If you have a behavioral health specialist, make an appointment. If not, see your OB-GYN or primary care provider, who can rule out other problems, make referrals and prescribe medication. You can also talk with HAP’s Coordinated Behavioral Health Management team.

Counseling helps, and medication may be necessary. Your health care provider should discuss the importance of ample sleep, self-care and social support. It’s also wise to identify three people you can confide in.

“I always tell my patients, ‘I want you to tell those three people today what you’re struggling with,’” Mertz says. “Because when you’re having a really bad day, that’s not when you want to call [your] best friend and say, ‘I haven’t told you any of this, but...’ Share with people what you’re struggling with and allow them to support you.”

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For help, contact HAP’s Coordinated Behavioral Health Management at (800) 444-5755.

How to be a supportive partner

Be present for your partner to help identify or ease postpartum depression or anxiety symptoms:

  • Talk about feelings. Don’t just ask whether your partner needs anything from the supermarket; ask whether she’s had symptoms of depression. “It’s a lot easier for somebody to answer, ‘Yes, I’m having these issues’ than to come and admit to it,” Mertz says. “It’s the most common complication of childbirth. Recognizing that this is something that can happen to anybody is really important.”
  • Take charge. Instead of asking how you can help, choose something and do it. “Oftentimes, [postpartum depression sufferers] don’t know what they need – that’s a very overwhelming question,” Mertz says. “Just say, ‘I’m going to fix dinner for us tonight,’ or ‘Why don’t you go to bed early? I’m going to take the baby for a walk.’”
  • Be present. If you can, take time off from work during the first few weeks or months. “The increase in the number of dads who are able to take paternity leave now is very helpful,” Mertz says. “It’s a lot less stressful on the family.”

Read more maternity stories:

Your Pregnancy Resource Center: Essential Articles for Parents-to-Be

Being pregnant can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help.

 

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