by April Gabriel-Ferretti
Making your mental health a priority after the birth of a baby is incredibly important for both mom and dad. Postpartum depression is seen in as many as 1 in 5 new moms, making it the number one complication of childbirth in the United States. During this global pandemic, mental health is being compromised in ways no one could have anticipated making the postpartum period even more complex with its various layers of uncertainty, anger, fear and loss.
In addition to the more commonly known risk factors of postpartum depression, such as having a previous history of mental illness, additional factors might contribute to an increased probability of developing postpartum mood disorders. Examples to consider include:
- Stress from pregnancy and also being required to care for small children with little time for self-care
- Anxiety around the uncertainty of when the pandemic will be over so that life can resume to “normal”
- Social distancing requirements
- Hospital mandates, which could impact your birth such as limiting the amount of support persons
- Worrying about yourself or your loved ones acquiring the virus
- Significant shifts in expectations about your birth and the days following delivery
As a psychotherapist, I frequently work with clients who are dealing with issues like postpartum depression or anxiety. It’s not uncommon for them to express feelings of overwhelm. They sometimes compare these emotions to what they imagine it would feel like if they were drowning. They discuss not knowing how to come out from under the stressors of their circumstances. For some, this can be paralyzing.
Luckily, with a bit of foresight and some planning, there are ways that you can improve your quality of life and start to feel more hopeful again. By being proactive and trying to anticipate what the weeks and months ahead might entail, you can put better supports in place for you and your family and gain a better sense of control. Start the dialogue now and help yourself and others beat the stigma around mental illness.
Find a Therapist Who Has Experience in Treating Postpartum Mood Disorders
Don’t be blindsided by what may lie ahead! Take the time now to do the research and find a therapist who will best suit your needs. Therapists are not a one size fits all. So be sure that the therapist subscribes to an approach that feels aligned with your values. Doing this work now will set you up for success later. With the majority of clinicians offering strictly telehealth, options are more abundant now than ever. You can begin your search by checking out Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) provider directory at www.postpartum.net or reach out to your insurance company to get a list of qualified providers.
Don’t Forget Your Partner
Were you aware that your partner can suffer from postpartum depression? Yep! It’s reported that 1 in 10 dads and upwards to 18% of men will be diagnosed with postpartum depression. Whether your partner is simply trying to support you or they are experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, there are resources available to help. Like you, they need to know that they are not alone and that by getting the right kind of support, they too will get better.
Accept That Your Postpartum Experience Might Be Different From What You Originally Envisioned
The birth of a baby is a major milestone. That being said, it makes sense that you would want to include your family and friends in not only meeting your precious little one but participating in the process of supporting you after their arrival. Unfortunately, things may look quite different from what you had hoped for, and there will be some losses along the way. Try to remind yourself that these circumstances are temporary and that your baby will have a lifetime ahead to foster those important relationships. Also, give yourself the space required to grieve these losses. It’s perfectly acceptable to feel sad, angry or disappointed. Acknowledge them. Sit with them. Then release them and make room for positivity.
Take Action Instead of Worrying
During times of uncertainty, we can get caught up in the many “what ifs” of life. What if this pandemic lasts forever? What if we get sick? What if life never goes back to normal? What if I can’t get through this? The possibilities are endless! Instead of worrying, which serves no purpose, think about ways to take action.
How can I set up my home in preparation for the baby’s arrival?
What support can I put in place during the postpartum period so that my physical and emotional needs are better met?
What are some of my expectations of my partner when it comes to their role in caring for our baby?
Utilize Tricks From The Experts
We are often our own worst critics. We say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of saying to a friend. We beat ourselves up with negative self-talk and put ourselves down by not acknowledging our efforts. The next time you catch yourself headed down this path, try breathing some truth into your original statement and come up with a more balanced response.
I’m a terrible mother.
I’m not a terrible mom. I’m going to make mistakes from time to time. That’s part of growing.
I should know exactly what my baby wants the moment he begins to cry.
It’s going to take time to understand my baby. With some trial and error, I’ll eventually be able to determine which cry is for hunger versus needing a diaper change.
With cases of the virus continuing to climb, we’re doomed to get sick, maybe even die.
I cannot predict the future. The rate of survival is 98%, and we will deal with the situation as best we can if someone gets sick.
Understand the Difference Between “Baby Blues” and Postpartum Depression
Up to 80% of new moms will experience baby blues, which is often contributed to a shift in hormones. Symptoms might include unexplained weepiness, exhaustion, shifts in mood and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms could last for up to two weeks. Postpartum depression, however, goes beyond two weeks and leaves mom with feelings of hopelessness, guilt or shame, excessive fear or worry, difficulty staying or falling asleep and sometimes thoughts of death or dying, etc. When symptoms go beyond the first few weeks, it is likely more serious than the normal adjustment period after having a baby.
Utilize Postpartum Mental Health Resources
As you begin preparing to navigate this rewarding yet challenging postpartum experience, here are resources to consider looking into.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) has wonderful online weekly and free support groups:
PSI Facebook Open Group and Closed Group for Support (for more privacy)
Virus Anxiety is a website dedicated to alleviating the anxiety around COVID-19. It contains easy to read articles and free meditations.
Toll-free Helpline – 1-800-944-4PPD (calls answered by local area volunteers)
Your local PSI Coordinator phone/email support connects families with local support groups, classes, and providers.
PSI offers Chat With An Expert with free live phone sessions offered every Wednesday for Moms and First Mondays for Dads
Postpartum Support Center offers free online peer-to-peer support groups, every Wednesday at 7:00 pm PST. They also provide free peer support via phone calls, texts, chats, emails, referrals, etc.
National Domestic Violence Hotline – provides confidential phone and live chat support at all times (being quarantined with an abusive partner poses higher risks)
Support is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) in more than 200 languages. All calls are free and confidential. Chat live with a support person by clicking the “Chat Now” button.
About the Author
April is a graduate of Capella University, where she received her MS in marriage and family counseling and therapy. She is the Lehigh Valley coordinator for Postpartum Support International and works in private practice where she provides psychotherapy and consulting. She specializes in serving women and families who have been affected by perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and hopes that by providing a safe space for them to speak freely and without judgment, she can be a conduit for their healing and recovery.