CDC research shows that nationally, about 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. While 80 percent of new moms may experience baby blues during the first two weeks following the birth of their child, postpartum depression impacts 15-20 percent of moms. Left untreated, it can severely impact the family and the development of the child. Yet, stigma often prevents women from speaking up because of guilt and shame.
Michelle Abraham, LCSW-R, assistant director of clinical services, Catholic Charities, describes mild postpartum depression as lack of energy, feeling intense worry and self-doubt. A lot of new mothers question their ability to be a good mother. Feelings of hopelessness or even resentment towards the infant are experienced. Hormonal changes along with a lack of sleep and all the new stresses (financial/social) that come along with having a baby contribute to postpartum.
There are also severe cases of postpartum that includes having symptoms of psychosis (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there).
If you are in crisis, please reach out for help:
Crisis Services is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call 716-834-3131 and a Crisis Counselor will speak with you.
Crisis Text Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Send a text to 741741 and a Crisis Counselor will respond to you quickly via text.
In addition to postpartum depression, women can experience a wide range of emotional disorders during pregnancy and after birth including anxiety and panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) is a general term used to describe these illnesses.
“New moms are told that this is the best time of their life and to enjoy every minute,” Jennifer Urban, LCSW-R, PMH-C, co-founder, and co-director of the WNY Postpartum Connection, Inc., said. “Few people ask moms how they are doing.”
“It is hard for a parent to admit to themselves that things aren’t going well, let alone admit it to someone else,” Urban said. “External messages they might hear include “there must be something wrong with you” and internal expectations can also be a big issue to overcome.”
Moms need to be reassured that they are not alone, and that postpartum mental issues are common and treatable. She also points to the negative impact that social media can have when people compare themselves to others and feel that they fall short.
Postpartum depression is often dismissed by the mother and their family as being related to a lack of sleep. We know that sleep might be a contributing factor, but this is different from the type of sensitivity to emotions one experiences when they are tired.
“We put a lot of pressure on new moms, having a baby is supposed to be a blessing so the mother might invalidate her emotions saying things like ‘I shouldn’t be sad during this happy time,’” said Abraham.
According to the National Institute of Health, if mood changes and feelings of anxiety or unhappiness are severe, or if they last longer than two weeks, a woman may have postpartum depression. Women with postpartum depression generally will not feel better unless they receive treatment.
Urban says there has been some improvement in reducing the stigma of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, but there is still a long way to go. We are doing a better job of telling moms they are not alone and it is helpful to have moms reach out to other moms. Prominent celebrities who speak openly about their own struggles can also help change attitudes and encourage conversations.
Supporting Moms and Families
According to Abraham, families and friends should listen without judgement and try not to offer advice. Although it can be tempting it is often invalidating. Humor and distraction are helpful, sometimes new moms feels socially isolated so don’t forget that even though your friend had a baby they still need to be invited to things even if they can’t join, the invitation helps reduce isolation.
“Believe them when they share feelings, assure them they are still good mothers,” Abraham said. “Woman don’t hear nearly enough that they are good mothers.”
WNY Postpartum Connection, Inc. connects pregnant and postpartum moms and families with the mental health services they need for a healthy start, to serve as a guide to some of the specialized maternal perinatal health services in our area, to connect professionals who share a commitment to helping moms and families, and to provide advocacy, education, and increased access to care for all.
The WNY Postpartum Connection wnypostpartum.com website provides access to more than 125 independent practitioners, agencies, local support groups, supportive programs, and service providers in the community.
Urban suggests asking a new mom “How can I support you and help you?” Remind her that she is not alone, postpartum depression is common, and it is treatable. Many resources exist including counseling and medication. Loved ones can also reach out to providers for guidance.
- familyhelpcenter.net (24 – Hour Family Helpline: 716-892-2172)
Find out if you have postpartum depression – take this self-guided screening test to determine if you need to seek treatment.