When I started co-leading a Postpartum Support Group this summer, I was shocked to learn that most new moms receive little to no information about postpartum mental health from their medical providers. Given how difficult life can be with a newborn and postpartum adjustments, this lack of information serves as a steep learning curve to wellness.
With that said, let’s try to lower that barrier for all of us (new moms, friends, and partners alike) and talk about the notorious shadowland, one of the most misunderstood seasons of life – postpartum!
With all its hormonal shifts, physical struggles, relationship transitions, caregiving responsibilities, career changes, and mental health complexities, postpartum can feel like a nebulous mystery at best. But add in some isolation, insecurity about the validity of your experience, a screaming infant, and a touch of the “baby blues” or full-on depression or anxiety, and you can have a Hot Mess Express on your hands.
The most helpful thing to combat this potential Hot Mess Express situation is to bring awareness, education, and connection to people either preparing for or navigating postpartum. That said, here are four thoughts about postpartum.
1. About 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, and this is probably underreported! I bring this up to say with all the kindness and love in my heart – “Hi. Is your mental health on the struggle bus these days? You’re normal. I know you’re doing the best you can. You don’t have to feel like this forever. Help is available to you.”
2. There’s a spectrum between “baby blues” and postpartum depression or anxiety. When your estrogen and progesterone drop dramatically after giving birth, your mood may drop also. You could experience symptoms like irritability, hopelessness, tearfulness, and numbness. You could also experience anxiety, intrusive thoughts, panic, or sleeplessness. During all these huge life changes, the physical impact of childbirth, and sleeplessness with a newborn, how could you not experience some sort of impact on your mental health? However, if you experience these symptoms in a prolonged, continual kind of way or if you’d like to get some additional support, you may want to reach out to a mental health professional or a doctor to evaluate your symptoms and maybe take some assessments like the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) or the Perinatal Anxiety Screening Scale (PASS). And of course, if you ever struggle with suicidal or homicidal thoughts, please call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Hotline or reach out to the local Behavioral Health Response Line in Saint Louis (314-469-6644).
3. “Mommy brain” is real (and thank goodness for it!). As described by New Mother Caregiving in their recent newsletter, did you know that when you’re a new mom, your brain eradicates some of the neuropathways that lead to your prefrontal cortex in order
to help your amygdala work more efficiently? This is called “synaptic pruning,” according to neurological researchers. The amygdala helps moms better attune to their babies and increase their awareness of safety and biological caregiving needs. In the process of this “synaptic pruning,” however, you may feel like you’re struggling with complex thinking or planning (which is normally facilitated by your brain’s prefrontal cortex), there’s a good reason for that. There can be a lot of external judgement around this phenomenon “mommy brain” (partially because of patriarchy and a cultural obsession with productivity), but please practice offering grace to yourself. Your brain is trying to help you be the best mom you can be, and those neuropathways can be reestablished in the future.
4. Connection and community can be lifesaving. If you have people around you that tell you that you’re not alone and that your struggles are valid, it can decrease the amount of cortisol in your body, combat feelings of isolation, repel sensations of shame and guilt, and provide emotional validation. Maybe you need to have a dear friend or a partner who can ask questions about how you’re doing (physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, etc.). Maybe you need a therapist. Maybe you need someone to come over to your house and clean some things and wash some dishes for you. Maybe you need that hero of a Door Dash worker to bring you some dinner. Or maybe you need to join a postpartum support group in order to find support with other new moms who get it. (Check with your local hospital’s labor and delivery department, doulas, birthing centers, or social media, to see if they have any resources about support groups!)
Whether you are a new mom or have a new mom as a friend or partner, I hope that these thoughts about postpartum helped you increase your understanding and compassion for this wild season of life. You are doing fabulous work, and you are so valuable in this world.
If you would like to get some additional mental health support during this season of life, I hope that you reach out to our team at Chesterfield Counseling Associates to be matched with a therapist!