Jamie's Input on PMADs

From a young age, many of us dream about having a family. We play dolls; we read stories; we come up with baby names. In all of those dreams, we get pregnant easily, have a smooth pregnancy and birth, and are joyous bringing home a happy and healthy baby. Yet, this fairy tale is rarely a reality.

Pregnancy and birth can bring a lot of joy and excitement to your life. However, it can also bring a great deal of anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear, as well as a whole host of other emotions, even with the most uncomplicated pregnancies and births. This is completely normal! Physically, your body has been through a lot, and then it continues to give to new baby. Additionally, you will find that your life and role in it has completely changed. “Who are you, now?”

I’ve heard PPD described as an all-consuming darkness, a weight, a hole from which they feel they can never climb out of. Women talk about feeling betrayed by themselves,  like a failure, and like a horrible mother. “How can I be a good mother, when I don’t even want to be near my baby?” “How can I take care of this baby, when I can’t even get out of bed?” “I hear my baby cry, and I just become so angry!”

Then, there is the fear and anxiety, which can become Postpartum Anxiety or Postpartum OCD. The dangerous, all-consuming “what if” game that plays constantly. “What if the baby stops breathing?” “What if I fall down the stairs while holding the baby?” “Is this a heat rash or some sort of allergic reaction?” You can spend hours upon hours thinking about all of your fears or the mounting to-do list. Sleeping while the baby sleeps sounds nice unless you can’t turn your brain off. The fear and anxiety can even lead to isolating yourself even more.

Remember this isn’t limited to women. Men can experience postpartum mood disorder as well. Additionally, support givers can often feel overwhelmed and unprepared for how to support their loved one through a postpartum mood disorder.

So maybe some of this is sounding familiar, what now? For some women, these symptoms are mild and will abate with time as their bodies stabilize. Some helpful things include asking for extra support from friends and family, getting good sleep, joining a support group, talking with close family and friends, yoga, mindfulness activities, and deep breathing. Therapy with a therapist specializing in maternal mental health can also be incredibly helpful. 

Seeking treatment can seem like a scary thing. “Am I going crazy?” “Will they think I am a bad mother?” “Will I have to be away from my baby?” Hospitalization is actually necessary in only extremely severe cases. For the majority of people, therapy and possible the combination of therapy with medicine will be enough to help. It is important to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional that is familiar with PPMD and maternal mental health who is comfortable and competent in screening and discerning between the diagnoses. Below are some common FAQs.

Overall, remember, you are not alone! PMADs are common and are not a sign of weakness or mean that you are not a good mother. You have just created a life and brought it into this world. You are strong and courageous, and you will feel better!

How do you know the difference between the baby blues and PPD?

Most women (approximately 80%) experience some sort of mood swings or increased crying, often called the “baby blues.” This typically lasts about 2-3 weeks and can resolve by itself. However, 1 in 7 women experience significant mental health reactions (depression, anxiety, irritability, intrusive thoughts, panic, etc) that do not go away after a few weeks.

What does PMAD stand for?

PMAD stands for Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. I have a lot of people come to me extremely anxious, fearful of something bad happening to the baby, difficulty sleeping, etc but have no sadness so they are confused why they are feeling overwhelmed. Often we hear of postpartum depression, but there are a lot of other disorders that can occur during the postpartum period: Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Postpartum Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Postpartum Psychosis. Postpartum Support International is a wonderful resource and explains the details of each of these (http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/pregnancy-postpartum-mental-health/).

How common are PMADs?

Approximately 80% of women experience the “baby blues” and about 15-20% experience more significant depression and anxiety otherwise known as Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD).

How long can you expect PMADs to last?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific timeframe. It is different for each woman and each pregnancy. However, with time and support, these symptoms are temporary and treatable. You WILL get better!

Can fathers, same-sex partners, and adoptive parents have PMADs?

Yes! Men can postpartum depression, or parental postnatal depression (PPD), too. In fact, up to 1 in 4 men experience PPD, and almost half of men whose partners have a PMAD experience PPD. Same-sex parents and adoptive parents can also experience PMADs.

Life after having a baby can be completely overwhelming, and partners are often helping take care of baby and mom. Add to that sleeplessness, lack of time for self-care, your own hormonal changes, lifestyle changes, trying to find your own way to connect with baby, and many other changes, it makes a lot of sense that symptoms of depression or anxiety can occur.

What are some practical ways to get help?

For most women, these symptoms are mild and will abate with time as their bodies

stabilize. Some helpful things include asking for extra support from friends and

family, getting good sleep, joining a support group, talking with close family and

friends, yoga, mindfulness activities, deep breathing, and therapy.

However, if the symptoms persist or you feel overwhelmed, you may be experiencing a PPMD, it would be beneficial to talk to your doctor and/or a mental health care professional specializing in maternal mental health. In addition to the things listed above, therapy and/or medication would be a good course of treatment. It is important to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional that is familiar with PMAD and maternal mental health who is comfortable and competent in screening and discerning between the diagnoses.

Postpartum Support International has a lot of different resources for women and men surrounding PMADs. They have books, support lines, and even support groups. They can also help you find a mental health provider in your area.

Do you think you may be experiencing a perinatal mood disorder?

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