Postpartum Healing: The Mind

Talk about Birth

Women begin postpartum healing by processing their delivery.  Even beautiful deliveries need to be discussed, broken down, and digested by the mother.  This is an important step in her transition to motherhood, especially if her delivery did not go as planned or was traumatic in anyway.

Allowing mothers to tell their birth story is very important.  It is part of her cataloging her narrative.

Check out the birth series Informed Birth for more birth stories and insight to different birth experiences!

She needs space to openly express her feelings surrounding her birth and to not have her experience minimized.  It is easy to downplay feelings of trauma or brokenness from seemingly routine deliveries. Even if the delivery was uncomplicated, the mother may have a completely different perspective.  Allow her time to talk and process it.  Many women just need to relive the experience before they can let go and begin the transition to motherhood.

 

What is Postpartum Depression

Baby Blues is a normal period of mental adjustment postpartum.  Hormones that were elevated during pregnancy are plummeting after delivery.  These hormone swings leave many women feeling weepy and irritable.  This is normal and resolves on its own with no medical intervention.  Postpartum depression, PPD, is characterized by:

Frequent crying, mood swings, irritability, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, loss of sexual interest, anxiety, appetite changes, negative scary thoughts, feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness and despair. In addition, thoughts of suicide and feelings of anger, shame and guilt are often present. – The Postpartum Stress Center

1 in 7 women struggle from postpartum depression.  That is a staggering number.  Much research is being done to pinpoint triggers. While the needle still points in many directions, I feel safe in saying much of the root cause is lack of support.

New moms are completely overwhelmed by the daunting task of raising a newborn.  They must learn how to breastfeed, how to care for the baby’s basic needs, how to get a baby to sleep, all while traversing the complicated feelings of becoming a mother and letting go of the life she once knew.  If any single piece of that equation is out of line, it can be a breakdown of the whole system.  While it is well known that a history of depression or anxiety predisposes women to postpartum depression, we are also beginning to see links between depression and breastfeeding.

Shorter breastfeeding duration is seen with women with postpartum depression.   These women have also been noted to have lower circulating oxytocin levels.  Oxytocin plays a role in both breastfeeding and maternal infant bonding.  Lower levels could be impacting breastfeeding duration and a mother’s ability to feel like she is bonding with her infant.  The question is whether breastfeeding struggles lead to PPD or are women suffering from PPD less inclined to breastfeed.  Regardless, the correlation bears noting and emphasizes the fact that postpartum women benefit from increased breastfeeding support.

All women are at risk for postpartum depression.  Mothers are expected to “do it all” and love every minute of it.  The reality often falls so tragically short of the cultural narrative, it is little wonder woman find themselves floundering and disillusioned on the other side.  We can serve these women better by presenting them with more honest postpartum education during pregnancy and better in home support systems postpartum.

If you are feeling symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, reach out to your primary care provider. You should not have to face these feelings alone. Check out the Postpartum Stress Center for more information about PPD and PPA and some helpful resources.

Much research is being done to pinpoint triggers. While the needle still points in many directions, I feel safe saying that much of the cause is lack of support.

Are these feelings Postpartum Anxiety

Have you ever gone into to check your sleeping baby to make sure they were still breathing?  Have you ever check more than once in a night?  Yep.  Me too.  Many mothers have symptoms of postpartum anxiety that accompany overwhelming weight of caring for a completely vulnerable and helpless little being.  We all feel a bit ill equipped when we are sent home with our baby.

For some, this anxiety can become debilitating. Postpartum anxiety is defined as a mother with:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen
  • Racing thoughts
  • Disturbances of sleep and appetite
  • Inability to sit still
  • Physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea

-Postpartum Support International

Others experience intrusive thoughts often of something horrible happing to the baby.  I personally had reoccurring visions of me dropping my baby and her head literally exploding on the floor.  This is a symptoms of postpartum anxiety.

The important take home message is that postpartum anxiety is a real condition and it is completely treatable.  If you are suffering for postpartum anxiety, you are not alone and there an numerous resources available to you.  Check out the resource links below or follow up with your primary care provider.

Where does breastfeeding fit in?

New moms are completely overwhelmed by the daunting task of raising a newborn.  They must learn how to breastfeed, how to care for the baby’s basic needs, how to get a baby to sleep, and how to soothe a baby.  If any single piece of that equation is out of line, it can be a breakdown of the whole system.  While it is well known that a history of depressive or anxiety symptoms predisposes women to postpartum depression, we are also beginning to see links between depression and breastfeeding.

Shorter breastfeeding duration is seen with women with postpartum depression.   These women have also been noted to have lower circulating oxytocin levels.  Oxytocin plays a role in both breastfeeding and maternal infant bonding.  Lower levels could be impacting breastfeeding duration and a mother’s ability to feel like she is bonding with her infant.  The question is whether breastfeeding struggles lead to PPD or are women suffering from PPD less inclined to breastfeed.  Regardless, the correlation bears noting and emphasizes that fact that postpartum women benefit from increased breastfeeding support.

All women are at risk for postpartum depression.  Mothers are expected to “do it all” and love every minute of it.  The reality often falls so tragically short of the cultural narrative, it is little wonder woman find themselves floundering and disillusioned on the other side.  We can serve these women better by presenting them with more honest postpartum education during pregnancy and better in home support systems postpartum.

Resources

Postpartum Stress Center 

Artwork in this post was created by Karen Kleinman and Molly McIntyre from the Post Party Stress Center. The center was established to provide a better understanding and comprehensive clinical intervention for any woman who suffers from the range of prenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Our objective is to provide support and treatment for the pregnant or postpartum woman and her family as well as guidance for her treating physician or therapist.

Postpartum Support International

A wonderful online resource that provider direct counseling, provider training, and and peer support for those experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety.  Check out their webpage to utilize their excellent support network.

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