Beyond the Baby Blues: Recognizing postpartum depression and anxiety - MetroFamily Magazine
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Beyond the Baby Blues: Recognizing postpartum depression and anxiety

By 988 Oklahoma

by Erin Page

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

One in seven moms and one in 10 dads experience postpartum depression or anxiety, according to Falon Morgan with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Morgan, a licensed clinical social worker who also holds a Perinatal Mental Health Certification, answered our questions about recognizing postpartum disorders and reducing stigma surrounding them.

What are the tell-tale symptoms of postpartum disorders?

PMADs — or perinatal mood and anxiety disorders — are distinguished by feelings of guilt or shame, hopelessness, anger, rage, irritability or a lack of interest in the baby.

We also look for some of those common symptoms of depression, like loss of interest, not wanting to do things you used to enjoy, not sleeping or eating normally, crying a lot or overwhelming sadness — all the way to thoughts of harming yourself or the baby.

In terms of anxiety, we look for ruminating thoughts or consistent worry. You are going to have different worries and thoughts than you did prior to being a mom, so it’s figuring out how controlling or obsessive and how often or consuming those worries are.

Postpartum psychosis, which is a severe mental health condition characterized by paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, mood swings and extreme changes in behavior, occurs in one to two out of every thousand women who give birth.

What are the risk factors for postpartum disorders?

Postpartum disorders can happen to anyone, but there are certain risk factors that increase the chances they could occur. Risk factors include having a mental health diagnosis, a family history of postpartum disorders, a previous traumatic birth or pregnancy loss, if you are birthing multiples, if baby went to NICU, relationship issues or financial struggles. If mom is single, a teen mom or has little to no support, those are risk factors. And challenges with breastfeeding — lots of people overlook this — we think breastfeeding is a natural thing that happens easily, but it’s often not.

How do you know whether you’re experiencing baby blues or a true postpartum disorder?

One of the common misconceptions is that baby blues is normal and has no expiration date. In reality, while 80 percent of parents experience them, baby blues only happen in the first three days after birth. After that three-day period, things tend to stabilize, so if you are still having anxious or depressive thoughts, or both, after 2 weeks, we have to consider how severe the symptoms are.

How specifically can 988 help with postpartum disorders?

You can call or text 988 — Oklahoma’s free Mental Health Lifeline — to let them know what your symptoms, and they can help determine the most appropriate referral for services. It doesn’t matter whether it’s symptoms you are seeing in a mom and you want to figure out the best way

to support her, you are a partner who is concerned or you are the mom experiencing the symptoms, the trained professionals at 988 can listen, support, provide community resources and walk through that process with you.

What are the treatment options?

Professional resources — like therapy and medication — are important to consider, but so are emotional support and practical support. It’s important to get good rest and nutrition, have time to yourself and get your body moving. Online support groups can be really helpful, too.

We often forget about dads or co-parents — it’s not just parents who give birth who experience these disorders, right?

Yes, 1 in 10 dads experience postpartum depression or anxiety. We have to check in with co-parents, too, to ask how they are doing emotionally. The same kinds of symptoms can occur for co-parents, including worry, panic, anxiety and fear of losing control.

How can a friend or loved one best help a parent they think is experiencing a postpartum disorder?

As a society we focus on self-care, which is great, telling new moms “Don’t forget to take care of yourself” and “Sleep when baby sleeps,” but we forget about community care. It’s important for parents to have the presence of the people they love and feel supported by around them. That gives an opportunity for conversations to happen — whether it’s the person experiencing the symptoms or someone from the outside verbalizing what they are noticing. Acknowledging the things you are seeing is less stigmatizing; you’re recognizing them as a human and meeting them where they are.

How can parents-to-be proactively plan for their mental and emotional health, just like we plan for a birth or bringing baby home?

As a therapist, I take a proactive approach with expecting families by doing postpartum planning, especially if families have a history with postpartum disorders. Talk through a loose plan of what roles look like for partner parents. Make your partner aware of signs and symptoms that you’re stressed or overwhelmed. Have in-home support already planned — Can you have a grandparent or friend come by? Make a list of all your professional supports — like a lactation consultant, OB and pediatrician — so, for example, if you’re having trouble breastfeeding, in those brain fog moments, that list is on hand. Plan for meals — Do you have people bringing meals? Will you order in? Who is going to do the cooking? Who will get groceries or can groceries be ordered?

All of these can turn into a bigger ordeal when you’re also trying to meet a baby’s needs. You might have expectations of your partner that they don’t understand, so you have to communicate.

For single parents, identity who your social supports are. Who do you feel comfortable asking for help? Are there local groups, like Le Leche or support groups, that can help? Also have hotlines available to call with questions. Postpartum Support International (PSI), which has a local chapter, offers local provider listings, online support groups and articles at postpartum.net.

How can we as a society normalize postpartum disorders?

Let moms know the statistics. Once she knows that this is very common, she knows she is not the only one.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a 10-month series of articles and podcasts with 988 Mental Health Lifeline. Find the full series at metrofamilymagazine.com/mental-health.

The 988 Mental Health Lifeline operates 24/7, via call or text. Trained behavioral health professionals who help with mental health emergencies, provide guidance for a mental health situation, connect callers with local resources or provide insight on how to navigate concerns for a friend or loved one.

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