Maternal mental health concerns affect women during pregnancy or after giving birth. Sadly, postpartum mood concerns are still widely misunderstood. Often times, women are not assessed, diagnosed and connected with therapeutic support quickly enough. According to Postpartum Support International, “following the birth of their babies, approximately 15 to 20 percent of women experience depression or anxiety.”
As an effort to raise awareness about this pervasive women’s health concern, we are challenging many of the myths that surround postpartum mood concerns. Education and knowledge are powerful tools. By learning the facts about the number one complication of childbirth, you may support another mama who is struggling.
Myth #1: Postpartum depression is caused by eating an unbalanced diet.
There are a lot of myths surrounding the various causes of postpartum depression and mood concerns. One recent hypothesis in the media suggested that eating processed sugars and an unbalanced diet causes PPD.
Here’s the fact: Postpartum depression is not caused by eating processed sugars or foods, but rather by the biological, social and emotional changes that ensue after giving birth. Family and personal mental health history, past trauma, birth trauma, social support and hormonal fluctuations are all variables that play a role, and can increase a woman’s risk of developing PPD.
And PPD does not discriminate. It can affect all women: kind mamas, nature mamas, urban mamas, etc. It is not something a woman “caused” or “brought” upon herself, but rather a mental health concern that results from the myriad of stressors that occur during the postpartum period.
Myth #2: PPD only occurs a few months after giving birth
Dr. Anna Glezar, perinatal psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco says, “generally, the onset of a postpartum mood concern occurs about one to three months postpartum.” However, women are not immune to developing a postpartum mood concern once the fourth-trimester is over.
Unknown to many women and their families, postpartum mood concerns can occur anytime during the postpartum period, which refers to the first year following childbirth.
And up to 80 percent of women experience the baby blues. The blues typically occur shortly after giving birth, and include feelings of being overwhelmed, tearful and worried. But, the blues are not postpartum depression or anxiety. They are a normal response to the combination of hormonal changes and feelings of overwhelm that many women experience as they become acutely aware of their lifelong roles and responsibilities as mothers.
If the blues persist for 10 days to two weeks, it’s a good idea to reach out to your obstetrician, pediatrician or a psychotherapist for a postpartum mood screening. During such an expansive and dynamic time, it’s easy to dismiss lingering feelings as normal responses to these new stressors.
It is not something a woman “caused” or “brought” upon herself, but rather a mental health concern that results from the myriad of stressors that occur during the postpartum period.
Myth #3: PPD will get better on its own.
Unfortunately, postpartum mood concerns do not remiss on their own. Without proper screening and treatment, they may become worse, and prolong a woman’s suffering during an already vulnerable and tender time.
It’s often scary to reach out for emotional support during a time when you are adjusting to a new range of responsibilities. After all, motherhood thrusts us into a space and place of feeling as though we need to be in the “know,” and this is evident by the numerous questions that we are asked about how we are feeding, sleep training, and raising our babies. During a time when we are being relied upon to sustain and nurture new life, it may be vulnerable to embrace and admit what we do not know.
Melissa Whippo, LCSW, perinatal social worker at the University of California, San Francisco and co-facilitator of “The Afterglow,” a postpartum support group at UCSF hospital reminds women that “they do not have to muscle through their postpartum struggles alone.”
She reminds all moms and their partners that asking for help models appropriate self-care, and is a wonderful message to your new son or daughter that taking care of your feelings is important and meaningful for your emotional well-being.
Generally speaking, women who are struggling with a postpartum mood concern often benefit from weekly psychotherapy with a clinician who has specific training and experience working with women during the postpartum period. Additionally, group support and medication may also be beneficial depending on severity and individual needs.
Myth #4: Breastfeeding Prevents PPD.
Jennifer Suffin, IBCLC, lactation consultant says, “There are studies that correlate breastfeeding with reduced rates of PPD.” Jennifer reminds families, however, that they should interpret this data with caution, as these studies do not account for all of the variables. All women are different. For some women, nursing is the “lifeline that helps them through PPD while for others reducing or stopping breastfeeding helps them recover.”
Jennifer also says that “many moms worry they cannot take antidepressants while they are breastfeeding.” She reminds moms that there are anti-depressant medications that are considered safer than others to take while nursing. She encourages all moms who have questions about medication to reach out to their obstetricians, pediatricians or psychiatrists.
For more information, Postpartum Support International offers wonderful information and resources for families and friends.
Image via Marlena Pearl Photography