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Postpartum Anxiety and Depression: What Is It? How Can You Prevent It? How Can You Cope?

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By Amy Goldizen

When I found out that I was expecting for the very first time, a flood of emotions rushed over me. A baby! We were having a baby! It was the most exciting moment of my life–yet I was so overwhelmingly terrified. I stood in my bathroom admiring two bold pink lines for what I am almost certain was 20 mins, as if they might disappear. My heart was racing and my mind was wondering to baby showers, gender-reveal parties, and tiny little toes. I stumbled out of the bathroom with an awkward grin on my face, inwardly thinking that this would be the most magical and peaceful time of my life, and my dear husband warmly folded me in his arms as we began our journey into parenthood.

Having a baby is hands-down one of the most incredible experiences a person can ever have in their lifetime. From the second you find out that you’re carrying a tiny life within you, everything changes. Everyone tells you their personal stories—good and bad—from pregnancy, labor and delivery, and sleepless nights. But I don’t ever remember anybody telling me that there was a possibility that I may not be consumed by peace and contentment after delivery; that I could be consumed with worry, panic, and a loss of interest in things that once brought me immense joy – yet here I was, heart racing, palms sweating, a blubbering, crying mess on my bathroom floor scared to go anywhere, terrified for anything bad to happen that would prevent me from caring for my new precious gift.

My husband didn’t understand; what did I have to be so terrified of? In fact, I don’t even think that I understood what I was afraid of most of the time. I just was—afraid, nervous, uneasy, and sad because I knew it was controlling my life. The feelings I was having hindered my social life, my marriage, and even the relationship I once had and enjoyed with myself. I had developed postpartum anxiety, and depression set in upon my realization that my quality of life had rapidly declined due to my newly intensified fears. I felt alone. Nobody ever talks about these things. Why doesn’t anyone tell you that this can happen to you? Little did I know, I wasn’t alone–according to the American Psychological Association, as many as 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, with the incidence of postpartum anxiety disorders occurring more frequently at a rate of approximately 17%.

What Causes Postpartum Anxiety and Depression?

It is important to understand that if you are a mother suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression, you are not alone in this battle and it is not your fault. There are a variety of biological and environmental risk factors that contribute to the onset of these conditions, and many of them are out of your control. Understanding what puts you at risk for developing PPA & PPD can help you better prevent them from occurring. That being said, nothing is foolproof. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of PPA or PPD, you have a lot of different options for treatment that will help you get back to being you again so that you don’t have to miss out on any more precious time with your little one.

The Risk Factors

Family history of mental illness makes you more vulnerable to developing these postpartum mood disorders. Yes, we’re talking DNA ladies. There is absolutely no way you can mitigate this risk factor, however, being knowledgeable about your family history can be helpful. If you know that your family history puts you at higher risk, you can take some proactive steps to avoid developing these conditions. Take heart—just because your biology says that you may develop PPA & PPD, it doesn’t mean that you will. Consider your family history as a simple disclaimer.

Personal history – it goes without saying; if you’ve ever struggled with anxiety or depression before, you are at an increased risk of battling these conditions again during pregnancy or after your babe arrives earth-side. Mention this to your health care provider, they’ll keep a close eye on you and take extra care to assess how you’re coping along the way. They’ve got your back.

Traumatic pregnancy or birth can create the perfect environment for anxiety and depression to creep in. If you’ve experienced an especially difficult pregnancy or your labor or delivery was full of unsettling circumstances for you or baby and you’re having a hard time dealing with your experience, you may be suffering from PPA or PPD. This also goes for mamas who have previously suffered a loss of pregnancy or baby. Despite your joy in welcoming a new baby, the love and feelings of loss you have for your angel baby will remain. This is extremely difficult for many moms—and rightfully so.

Lack of Support – Support is a huge necessity for moms. Whether you’re a first-time mom or you’re a veteran mom of 6, not having a strong social support network can be detrimental to your mental health during pregnancy and after delivery.

History of abuse, verbal, physical, or sexual, experienced throughout childhood or during adulthood, has the ability to hardwire your brain to be more susceptible to these emotionally taxing conditions.

Stress is and has always been one of the most influential factors in determining the outcome of our mental stability. Having a new baby is a lot of work and you lose a lot of sleep. It’s very likely that at some point self-care will take a back seat to baby’s needs, and it’s not always easy to feel your best when you’re wearing the same three-day-old pajamas covered in spit-up and body odor. Yeah, good times.

Underlying medical conditions are something that not all new moms think about when they’re riddled with a new general sense of worry. A visit to your doctor and a few simple blood tests can rule out underlying medical issues like pregnancy-induced thyroid conditions, significant hormonal imbalances, or lack of essential vitamins and minerals.

Feelings of insufficiency that accompany difficulty nursing, a colicky baby who is unable to be comforted, or a mom of multiples feeling overwhelmed can lead mothers to feel as if they are not doing enough to meet their baby’s needs. These feelings, when prolonged, can be the perfect storm when it comes to developing PPA & PPD.

What does it feel like?

Everyone experiences PPA & PPD differently. I experienced a rapid pounding heartbeat, hot flashes, and sweaty palms, paired with dizziness, nausea, and a sense of needing to flee. My home was my safe haven, where I felt the most comfortable. I often worried about death, car crashes, my health or the health of my new baby declining. Sometimes I would feel panic at random with no obvious trigger. Feelings like these, or any overwhelming thoughts or feelings that are not normal for you or are troubling to you, can indicate the presence of postpartum anxiety or depression.

How to Prevent and Cope with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression

(Click here to get this list as a PDF you can save or print for easy reference.)

Placenta Encapsulation: No that’s not a typo. I got your attention, didn’t I? Did you know that humans are the only mammals that does not routinely consume their placentas after the birth of their offspring? I know, some of you may run to the bathroom to hurl, but an increasing number of moms are having their placentas dehydrated and turned into a powder filled capsule to consume in an effort to combat anxiety and depression, boost energy, increase milk supply, and lift libido in the weeks after delivery. The placenta is an iron and nutrient rich organ that your body has created especially for you—and many moms have adopted this unconventional practice as a means of bouncing back quicker after delivery with great results.

Proper Nutrition: Birthing a baby takes a lot out of you. Making sure you have an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals is essential for maintaining health, energy, and warding off the ill effects of PPA & PPD.

Adequate Support: Surrounding yourself with people who emit positive vibes and are there for you when you need them is one of the best tools you can arm yourself with to cope with anxiety and depression. The reassurance and encouragement that comes from people around you can make a huge difference in the development or ability to cope with anxiety and depression.

Use Effective Communication: Being able to effectively verbalize your feelings and needs to your support network will help them to understand how you are doing and what they can do to help when you aren’t feeling up to par.

Positive Affirmations and Guided Imagery: For mamas looking for a natural behavioral approach to coping with anxiety and depression, practicing this interactive meditative approach to rewiring your thoughts can be extremely helpful in establishing new thought patterns.

Self-Care: Ok, this one might seem obvious, but it is often forgotten and may be the simplest way to achieve an instant pick-me-up. Once in a while a mom just needs a hot shower, a warm meal, and a nap. A pedicure wouldn’t hurt either, you know what I mean?

Deep Breathing and Meditation: I know what you’re thinking. You’re busy—and even that is an understatement. I get it. I’m totally with you, but hear me out. If you can devote just 10-15 minutes a day to practice deep breathing and meditation, you will be developing a skill that you can use to slow your mind and calm your nerves whenever anxiety and panic sets in. You’re worth it. Just take the 10-15 mins a day.

Exercise: Regular exercise is great for accomplishing more than just your summer beach bod. Exercise can actually influence your brain chemistry, releasing feel-good endorphins to help you stay more calm and content throughout your chaos-filled days.

Aromatherapy: Essential oils are becoming more and more a household staple. Moms are educating themselves on the overuse of prescription drugs, the toxins in chemicals, and the incredible healing power of nature. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or even just want a refreshing pick-me-up, there is an essential oil for just about any ailment. Added bonus: it makes you and your house smell amazing!

Talk Therapy: Verbalizing your feelings is extremely powerful—and therapists are great listeners. Being able to get all of your worries off of your chest while a pro validates your concerns and helps you to find ways to work through them is very liberating. If you choose to go this route, chances are you will leave feeling as if you’ve just had a ton of pressure lifted from your shoulders.

When to See Your Doctor

If you’re experiencing a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, or you’re having any thoughts that involve harming yourself or your baby, don’t hesitate. It is important to contact your health care provider immediately. When preventative and natural methods just aren’t enough, it may be time to see your doctor for medical treatment. Seeing your doctor and deciding that it’s time to try a prescription is not admitting defeat. Seeing your doctor does not mean that you have failed. Seeing your doctor simply means that you are enduring a difficult transition and you need a little help; and that is OKAY. We have all been in a position where we need help in one form or another. By acknowledging that your condition is beyond what you can control and more than you are able to handle by yourself, you are showing your strength. It can be extremely difficult for some moms to reach out and admit that they are having a difficult time. Find solace in your strength. By seeking help, you will be more present and available for yourself and your baby so that you can make memories and enjoy this truly special time in your life.

(Click here to get this list as a PDF you can save or print for easy reference.)

About the Author

Amy Goldizen

Amy is a seasoned military spouse and mother of four. Driven by the inspiration of her beloved family, she views every day as a new opportunity to learn and grow, believing that knowledge is power and when we know better, we do better. A type-A personality, she thrives on organization and strives for excellence in a variety of personal endeavors. In her free time, Amy enjoys cooking, gardening, practicing yoga and studying meditation - all alongside the most important people in her life.

Featured image by Naomi August via Unsplash under CC license.

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