The first thing to know is that you are not alone, and it's not your fault. There are so many other mothers out there who feel the same way you do. Four out of five moms experience some change in their emotional health after pregnancy. Up to 20 percent of postpartum mothers experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD) such as postpartum depression, and 80 percent are affected by the baby blues.
The first step to feeling better is acknowledging that something doesn't feel right. This can be hard for many women, but it's the most important thing you can do. The sooner you recognize and open up about not feeling right, the sooner you'll be on the road to recovery.
The next step is to ask someone for help. Sometimes moms try to deal with PMADs on their own, or hope that ignoring them will make the feelings go away. But whatever you are feeling needs to be addressed and treated so you can feel better and begin to enjoy motherhood, and also so your postpartum depression doesn't transition into general depression.
Women usually reach out to the people they feel closest to. This could be your partner, best friend, mother, or even someone you work with – it doesn't matter who it is. What matters is that you pick someone you trust whom you believe will receive what you have to say openly and without judgment. That person is in the best position to help you get what you need now and support you along the road to recovery.
Sometimes women feel so embarrassed about what they are feeling that talking to a more neutral person can seem easier. In that case, opening up to a medical professional (like your child's pediatrician, your OB or midwife, or your primary care provider) may feel easiest.
Start by asking, "Can I talk to you because I have some things on my mind?" Then explain that you haven't been feeling like yourself and see how they respond. If they respond well, tell them that you may be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or another perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. If you're not sure what you're feeling, it's enough to just say you aren't feeling like yourself.
If they don't respond well to your initial questions, you have a couple options. Reconsider whether he or she is truly the right person to talk to. Is this person likely to respond differently at another time? If so, wait for a better time and try again. If the answer is definitely no, then look for someone else. Again, your family members, friends, people in your community or church, and healthcare providers are all good options. Or you could turn to a warmline or online support network.
Though it can be tricky, it's important to try and help your partner understand what you're experiencing. After all, a PMAD will affect him or her too. For help explaining things, you could refer your partner to a book or online article, have a family member or friend join the conversation, or bring your partner with you to your next doctor or mental health provider appointment.
Once you find a support person who is open and willing to help, be as specific as possible about what you need. Ask him or her to help you take concrete steps to getting help, such as researching resources in your area, calling your doctor, or accompanying you to an appointment.
In my practice I have found that most men really want to help, but feel they don't know how. Giving them specific instructions is usually most effective. Or, if you just want to vent, explain that you would just like to talk about how you are feeling and you don't need them to respond or find an immediate solution. Being able to talk openly with someone is essential to the recovery process.
There are several different treatment options available, including social support, talk therapy, medication, and alternative therapies. Finding a support group specifically for postpartum mothers can be very helpful to you and your partner.
Try bringing your partner along with you to a therapy or support group session. Sometimes partners need to meet other mothers who are going through the same issues to understand that PMADs like postpartum depression are real and will not go away on their own. Depression and other mood disorders can be extremely hard on a relationship, and it puts extra pressure on the partner to hold up the family.
Online support resources for dads, such as PostpartumDads, provide advice and support from other men who have gone through this with their spouses.
If your partner isn't helpful when you reach out, then reach out to somebody else, call a support hotline, or find a support group. Don't give up. Just because one person doesn't understand doesn't mean no one will.
You deserve to feel better, and there are people and resources to help you get there. One of those resources is Postpartum Support International. Their motto is a good one to remember: "You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well."
If you think you may have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, answer these simple screening questions.
This article was written by Dr. Christina Hibbert.