Demystifying Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Myths vs Facts

by | Feb 26, 2020

It’s no secret that the postpartum period is difficult both physically and emotionally. Most women have heard of postpartum depression and typically think of excessive crying, moodiness or not feeling attached to baby as symptoms they need to watch for. However, if you talk to women who have experienced postpartum depression, many will tell you this was not the case for them. They will also tell you they were confused or unsure if they were experiencing PPD because they did not meet the symptoms or checklist their doctor shared, or they read about online. So, what do you need to watch for in the postpartum period?

For starters, it’s important to know that postpartum depression is just one of many postpartum mood and anxiety disorders that you need to be aware of. Others include Anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Bipolar and Psychosis. And, while the term postpartum is most often used when discussing this topic, symptoms of these mood and anxiety disorders can actually begin during pregnancy. According to Postpartum Support International, 15-20 percent of women experience significant symptoms of a Postpartum Mood or Anxiety Disorder during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth.

Ready to learn more? Check out these Myths and Facts:

MYTH – Only women can be diagnosed with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders

  • False! Research shows that 1 in 10 dads experience Paternal Postpartum Depression.  Dads may struggle with role changes, attachment, increased work/financial stress, low testosterone, or they may feel excluded or jealous of the mother-baby bond. Symptoms manifest differently with more irritability, anger, impulsivity, and withdrawing from people. 

FACT – Pregnant/postpartum women of every age, culture, race, religion, education level, and income level can experience symptoms of a Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder. Some women are at increased risk due to biological, environmental, or pregnancy factors such as these:

  • GENETIC – family history of mood or anxiety disorder, trauma, PMS/Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, thyroid imbalance, diabetes.

  • ENVIRONMENTAL – lack of support, recent life events such as a loss/move/job change, financial stress, or marital stress.

  • PERINATAL COMPLICATIONShistory of infertility/IVF, previous perinatal loss, mothers of multiples, mothers of NICU babies, and breastfeeding challenges.

MYTH – Women with Postpartum Depression do not love or want to care for their baby.

  • No! While some mothers experience difficulty bonding with or caring for baby, most mothers who experience postpartum depression love their baby very much or feel baby is their only source of joy during this difficult time. More common symptoms of PPD include: feelings of guilt or shame that you may not enjoy your role as a mother or do not find it to be easy, feeling inadequate as though you are not good enough, loss of interest/joy or pleasure in things you used to enjoy, wanting to escape, feelings of anger/irritability and feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

FACT – There is a difference between normal new parent worries and anxiety. 

  • Yes, all parents worry about their baby but if your worries begin to interfere with your normal routines, impact your care for baby or lead to symptoms of panic, you may be experiencing Postpartum Anxiety. Symptoms can include racing thoughts, a sense of doom, feeling as though something bad is going to happen to you or your baby, or difficulty concentrating or being still.

MYTH – Having scary images or thoughts is the same as having psychosis. 

  • Not true. Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. The most common symptom of Postpartum OCD is intrusive and scary thoughts or images about baby. These thoughts (obsessions) are very upsetting, unwanted and are anxious in nature, not delusional. Mothers are extremely upset by the thoughts/images and take steps (develop compulsions) to avoid harm to their baby. Imagine this; a mom has repeated thoughts or images of dropping her baby down the stairs. She is upset and frightened by these thoughts and does not want to hurt her baby. Therefore, in order to protect her baby, she avoids carrying her baby up or down the stairs. 

  • This is different from a mother experiencing Postpartum Psychosis (which is rare). In psychosis, a mother experiences a break in reality and sees or hears voices or images that others cannot, called hallucinations. Other symptoms include paranoia, periods of confusion or memory loss and distrust those around them.

FACT – There are many resources and treatment options available for Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. 

  • Peer support groups, breastfeeding groups, moms’ groups, psychotherapy groups. Online or in person. 

  • Psychotherapists for individual counseling, doula’s, lactation consultants 

  • Additional holistic approaches such a massage, reiki, acupuncture, placenta encapsulation

  • Medication – some women do need medication in addition to the above treatment options. Many moms worry about the risk of taking medication when breastfeeding. It is best to discuss risks and medication options with a psychiatrist. Often, the risks associated with NOT taking medication when needed outweigh the risks of medication. 

  • Postpartum Support International – provides education, online support meetings, a helpline, chat with an expert sessions, and a directory of local providers and groups in your area. To learn more, visit https://www.postpartum.net/

If you are experiencing symptoms of a Postpartum Mood or Anxiety Disorder, please get help today. You do not have to suffer alone! No one chooses to have this experience and you are not to blame. Getting help is the first step to being well again. 

Wellness Blog | #LearnWithWP

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