Your Postpartum Emotions:
The Baby Blues & You
Up to 80% of all new mothers will experience what is called “The Baby Blues.” If you are aware of this fact then lucky you because many families have no idea what is in store emotionally after the baby is finally here.
Postpartum Emotions for Moms & Dads
Too many families are never told that 4 out of 5 moms will feel sad, frustrated, tearful, anxious, and/or overwhelmed, what many women describe as “an emotional roller-coaster,” in the first days or weeks postpartum. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that your emotions might be a little out of whack after pregnancy and childbirth, considering all your body and mind have been through. The abrupt changes in hormones, sleep deprivation, and the psychological adjustment to becoming a parent, not to mention the exhaustion of labor and delivery, can easily trigger fluctuations in emotions.[/two_third]
And those first few days are not just tough on moms either. A dad can also have the Baby Blues and is more likely to have symptoms if his partner has symptoms too. It’s sadly ironic that just when we parents desire to be at our very best, we are often physically and emotionally at a disadvantage.
The Good News
The good news is that The Baby Blues are temporary. Neither a “diagnosis” nor a “disorder,” The Baby Blues is a normal reaction to the stress surrounding childbirth, and symptoms should improve within two weeks or so. Knowing this helps normalize the craziness we feel those first few days and relieves the layers of stress we add when we start to fear we are not “normal.” Feeling emotionally abnormal at this time is, in its own way, normal. And telling ourselves we’re “normal” can be just the relief we need even if we are the only ones saying so.
What Can We Do?
So here are a few things couples can do to safely navigate the baby blues:
1) Education: Learning all you can about postpartum emotional adjustment can help normalize your symptoms and also tell you if or when it may be time to get some outside help.
2) Practical Support: Letting others help with housework, childcare, and other basic duties can give you the space you need to let yourself (and your emotions) settle in and heal. It can also give you a chance to catch up on that much-needed sleep that’s likely wreaking havoc on your emotional state!
3) Emotional Support: Having a trusted friend, partner, or family member you can talk to can make all the difference. It’s ok to feel what you’re feeling and having someone who is ok to let you feel it may be just what you need.
4) Partner Support: My best advice for couples is to be patient and kind with one another. Realize this time for what it is–a temporary adjustment period when a tiny baby has all the power and the helpless adults are simply trying to keep up!
Beyond The Baby Blues
The Baby Blues can feel very permanent but they really should only last for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. If your “blues” are hanging on longer than two weeks or if your symptoms seem to be getting worse you may be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. Seeking counsel from an expert in perinatal mental health can help determine what your emotions are really up to and give you the tools you need to overcome them. (For resource options, click here).
Hang In There!
Your emotions may feel out-of-whack but that’s just part of having a baby. Eventually your body and emotions will resume a more “normal” routine. In the meantime, hang in there. It really does get easier over time, and it really is ok to just give in a little bit and go along for the ride.
Questions about the “Baby Blues”? Leave a comment and let me know!
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Women’s Emotions: Part 2
The Emotional Earthquake
Welcome back to the “Women’s Emotions” series. I hope you’ve already gained a little more insight into how women’s emotions work (or don’t work).
If you haven’t had a chance to read the Introduction and Part 1 yet, you may choose to do so, because today we will be building upon the basics explained in the first two segments as we examine how our brains, hormones, and life experiences can combine to create “tremors” and “earthquakes” in our emotional health.
The Earthquake Theory
I learned about the “Earthquake Theory” years ago from the amazing book, Women’s Moods¹. I use it all the time to help women (and the men who love them) better understand their own occurrence of emotional illness. Often, a woman will sit with me and explain, “I’ve never had any kind of depression or anxiety. Now I’m a mess! It feels like it came out of nowhere and I don’t understand why!” The earthquake theory can quickly clear things up.
Understanding Tremors & Earthquakes
As we learned in Part 1, our brains, hormones, and life experiences are connected and influence one another to create our overall experience of emotional health. So what happens when any one of these components is put under extreme stress?
Think of a “real” earthquake. Before it happens, the ground is shifting, little bits at a time, without any indication on the surface of what is happening below. The same goes for us.
Whenever our brain, hormones, or life experiences are stressed or altered, those changes will affect the other two components and can cause significant changes in our experience of emotional well-being, what I call either a “tremor” or an “earthquake. Our challenging, difficult, painful, and traumatic experiences shift our brain chemistry until finally one day, any other little change can come (like a shift in hormones) and make the whole thing crash in on us! This is the emotional earthquake.
A “tremor” is what we call any minor changes in emotional health—mild depressive symptoms, anxiety, irritability, or even Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)—that lasts for a few days or weeks at most but doesn’t significantly impair overall functioning. For example, when your hormones shift just before your period, they cause changes in your brain chemistry (since the two are directly linked—see part 1). For many women these changes will in turn affect not only mood but will also increase stressful life experiences around that time. On the flip side, a woman who has a history of stressful life experiences (which also alter the brain chemistry—see part 1) may suddenly find that she becomes emotionally dysregulated when she gets her period or goes on a hormone-based contraception, the changes in hormones setting off the “tremor” that was already primed to happen.
Women experiencing a tremor will feel “normal” again in time and without intervention.
But experiencing tremors over and over can cause even greater stress on the brain. In fact, we usually fail to recognize just how much our history of tremors, life stress, and hormone shifts can set us up for future emotional meltdowns. Just like a real earthquake, once our brain chemistry is shifted over and over all it may take is one more shift and “boom!” we have an emotional earthquake.
Let me see if I can make this a little clearer by sharing a case example—my own.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer for the first time when I was 15. Then my youngest sister, Miki, was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16. My mother made it into remission, but my then-8 year-old sister died when I was 18. These life experiences, combined with my still-adjusting teenage hormones, led to a “tremor”—what felt like mild depression for a few months but was probably really bereavement.
I came out of the tremor and felt fine until a few years later when I got married (which is a significant life stressor, even my husband agrees!) and we decided to get pregnant. While I was pregnant my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer again. My husband was preparing for dental school and working full-time, I was taking care of my mom and “being mom” for my siblings, and everything seemed fine—until the baby was born (major shift in hormones!). I gave birth to our first baby one year after our wedding and surprise! I got a baby boy and Postpartum Depression (which is definitely an earthquake). It may have seemed, at the time, like the postpartum depression came out of nowhere (it sure felt that way!) but looking back it made perfect sense. All those difficult life experiences combined with major shifts in my hormones, and my brain simply couldn’t take it anymore.
Learning about the earthquake theory is often the “aha!” we women have been searching for, for it helps us understand our emotional shifts just a little bit better. When we can see all that goes into our emotional tremors and earthquakes we can find comfort knowing that there is a very real reason for the changes in our emotions, that things aren’t always as they appear on the outside. It can also motivate us to take better care of ourselves in order to prevent re-occurring earthquakes in our lives.
I hope you will continue to join me in my “Women’s Emotions” series to learn more about what we can do to prevent emotional earthquakes or overcome them at each stage and phase of life. I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback, so please leave me a message below or through email if you desire. I wish you the best in understanding and creating your experience of emotional well-being and look forward to meeting you again soon in this place where “really great people” meet!
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¹ Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J.W. (1999). Women’s Moods: What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health. Harper Collins, New York, NY.Read More
Lessons Learned From Solitude
This morning I will pack up my laptop and flip-flops, swing by the best donut shop in the world for a dozen to surprise my kids, and make the 7 ½ hour drive back to my home in Flagstaff, AZ. I’ll be returning from a week-long stay in my mother-in-law’s beach house in Encinitas, CA, all alone. (Ah, alone—it’s one of my favorite words).
At this point you may be thinking how extravagant it is that I’ve had a full week alone by the beach. It’s ok if you are; I’ve thought it too—no one could be more disapproving of my week of solitude than my inner critic! But this week I’ve gotten really good at reminding her, “Look, you know as well as I do that I’ve come here because I have to rewrite my first book and need clarity and time to do it. But even more importantly, I have six kids, a husband, and a career at home and this is the first time I’ve taken an entire week away in 16 years! So back off!” My inner critic has been pretty quiet the past few days—I think I scared her away. (I hope I did).
It makes me wonder why we women, and especially mothers, have such a hard time allowing ourselves to recharge. Why is it so hard for us to accept that we need time that is ours alone, that we need a long, deep breath if we are to exhale all we’ve got onto those we love. And we do love them, don’t we? Of course we do. That’s why we spend so much time giving, exhaling. But without sacred space, time, and solitude we end up like a frozen computer—everybody’s typing away but nothing is getting through! That’s why we need time recharge–to unplug and reboot.
Whether it’s a week, a day, or an hour alone, doing something we love or doing nothing at all, or even if it’s only 15 minutes at the start, end, or in the middle of a hectic day, taking time to recharge is vital to emotional well-being and to our relationships. How can we give our best to our children, partners, families when we have nothing left to give?
I’ve had to work at it, but I’ve gotten much better at forcing myself to take a break; and I do have to force most of the time. I’m almost always flooded with nervous energy and pressure the moment I begin—first, because I’m suddenly 100% alone, a state I envy yet seldom experience, and second, because I immediately feel just how little time I actually have. Be it minutes, hours, or days, I know the time will fly by and I’ll be overcome with the needs of others again all too soon. So I find myself standing, staring, and saying, “Hmm. Well, here I am. Now…where do I begin?”
It will probably be difficult at first for you too. But give it a few moments or hours and, trust me, you will settle into your solitude like a warm bath. Anne Morrow Lindgergh said it beautifully: “Parting is inevitably painful, even for a short time. It is like an amputation, I feel. A limb is being torn off, without which I shall be unable to function. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if in parting one did actually lose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again, complete and round—more whole, even, than before, when the other people had pieces of one” (Gift From The Sea, p. 37).
And as I lounged on my beach chair yesterday and penned this post (with an actual pen!) at sunset, that’s exactly what I found. It was no longer the quiet that captured my attention; it was the sound of children laughing, the sight of a mother snuggling her young child, and the adoration on the faces of a couple walking hand in hand along the beach that made my heart soar. And it made me want to laugh, snuggle, and adore my dear family once again. After all, they are what make my week of solitude the beautiful gift that it has been. Without them I would simply be another lonely soul seeking solace from the ocean, but remembering them, I happily return today carrying with me the calm power of the waves, the dazzling sparkle of the sun on the horizon, and the clarity and peace of the time I’ve had to remember who I am. This is what will recharge me once I am home, just like the memories from home recharge me as I am here.
We all need time to recharge. It helps us appreciate the good in our lives. It helps us walk more slowly, breathe more deeply, and settle into a calmer rhythm fueled, not by schedules and the needs of others, but by nature and the call that comes from within. It doesn’t have to be a week. It doesn’t even have to be a day. But make time and space to recharge yourself. You can take the lessons learned from solitude with you wherever you go. They will make you whole, and open your eyes even wider to the beauty that is and has always been all around you.
How do you recharge? Is it easy for you or a struggle? Share your thoughts on “recharging” by leaving a comment!
Postpartum Survival Mode:
Be Where You Are & Give Yourself a Break!
I co-facilitate a weekly pregnancy and postpartum adjustment group at my office. Our group is well-attended by amazing moms (and sometimes dads) who need a little extra support before and after having a baby. There are many things I hear every week, but one of the most common is “I feel like I haven’t done anything all day!” This is associated with terrible guilt because these moms don’t think they’re doing “enough”.
Let’s face it—it’s hard to be a new parent. Moms’ and dads’ lives change dramatically when a baby is born, from changes in sleep and “free” time to changes in identity and body image to psychological and relationship changes. But too often we forget to give ourselves credit for all that we are doing amidst this stressful time of change—trying to get some sleep, lose some weight, bond with the baby, and adjust to new roles, intimacy, and simply being needed 24/7! For the most part the first several months (and I would say the first year in most cases) is simply survival mode.
When you’re just trying to keep up—to get a shower and maybe a nap, throw together some dinner, and give your honey a kiss on the cheek before night feedings keep you awake for hours—you’re in survival mode. When you’re under the clouds of a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, like postpartum depression, you’re in survival mode. And survival mode is a time to slow down and receive support, love, and help as needed to sustain and recharge you. It’s a time to let go of the need to add more, do more, or “be” anything more than who and where you are. I’m here to tell you that being in survival mode is a good place to be for it means that you are, after all, surviving and so is your baby and hopefully your relationship. Survival mode is enough. It really is.
Remind yourself that survival mode is a temporary situation and that adding anything “extra” to this already stressful time is absurd. Let go of your need to bake cookies, volunteer more, try to keep up with that “super parent” down the street! Remember that you’ve just had a baby, that your life has been changed forever, that you are still healing, recovering, and doing many important things, and that the last thing you need is any guilt about not doing “enough”. Believe me: you’re doing much more than you realize!
Moms and Dads, please take a little advice from me and give yourselves a break! Let yourselves be where you are. Let yourselves simply survive for a while. Focus on the relationships that really matter—caring for your baby, for one another, and especially for yourselves. I guarantee that soon enough you’ll be out of survival mode and thrown into the busyness of “normal” life again. And then you’ll probably be wishing you could go back to the simpler days of “survival mode” instead!
How do you cope with “survival mode?” Leave a comment and let us know!Read More
Pregnancy & Postpartum Emotional Health:
What Every Parent, Grandparent & Practitioner Should Know
“A new baby is like the beginning of all things-wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities” (Eda J. Le Shan). Most families excitedly prepare for a baby expecting the “wonder, hope and great possibilities” of bringing a new life into the world. However, having a baby also brings with it many unexpected emotional changes and families may find themselves wondering, “Why didn’t anyone warn me it could be so hard?” I’ve experienced Postpartum Depression and Anxiety four times and I can tell you, it’s a rough way to start parenthood–feeling alone and like you’ll never be better. But as a Clinical Psychologist specializing in Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders I can testify you are not alone and you will be better, especially if you get the help you need.
Today I share a few basic principles of pregnancy & posptartum emotional health that I think everybody should know, especially if you’re consdering having a baby, have already had one, love someone who’s having a baby, or if you are working with pregnant or postpartum moms and dads.
The “emotional roller-coaster” that mothers often experience following birth is a normal consequence of the fluctuations in hormones, lack of sleep and many physical and psychological demands faced during and after childbirth. Up to 80% of new mothers will experience the “Baby Blues” with symptoms like irritability, weepiness, frustration, and sadness. Dads can also experience the “Baby Blues;” it is therefore important for couples to realize this is a temporary condition that should go away on its own with sleep, support and practical help. Also, couples need to remember to be patient with one another during this crazy time when the baby seems to have all the control!
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
If symptoms of the “Baby Blues” intensify or persist two weeks or longer, then the mother may be experiencing a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder. Postpartum Depression, the most commonly known disorder, affects up to 20% of new mothers, with symptoms like sadness, despair, hopelessness, sleep and appetite changes, and irritability. ut though many families and practitioners have heard of postpartum depression, most still do not understand the wide spectrum of emotional disorders that can seriously interfere with the family’s postpartum experience.
The term “Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders” (PMADs) describes this spectrum of disorders, which occur during pregnancy and/or throughout the first year postpartum. These disorders include: depression and anxiety in pregnancy, Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Postpartum Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Postpartum Panic Disorder, and the rare Postpartum Psychosis, which affects approximately 1 in every 1,000 women. Symptoms for these disorders range from mild to severe and affect women regardless of race, age, culture or socieoeconomic status. In fact, in 2009 alone we can estimate as many as 800,000 mothers in the US experienced a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, based on live birth statistics (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_01.pdf).
It is also estimated that up to 11% of dads experience postpartum depression. Together, Perinatal Mood Disorders have been called the most common complication associated with childbirth. (For more specific information on each type of disorder, please visit my website, www.postpartumcouples.com or Postpartum Support International).
Impact on the Family
When a mother experiences a Perinatal Mood Disorder, the entire family unit suffers. In fact, maternal depression is the number one factor associated with future cognitive and behavioral problems in a newborn. Also, the first year postpartum has the highest divorce rate than any other time in a couple’s lives. Yet, so many families and providers have not received the proper education to allow them to identify and treat PMADs, resulting in the unnecessary suffering of mothers, fathers, and families. The good news is, with proper identification and understanding, Perinatal Mood Disorders are nearly 100 treatable!
What Can We do?
Practitioners working with pregnant and postpartum women can make a difference in the family’s perinatal experience by becoming aware of the serious nature of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders and becoming more educated on the identification and treatment of these disorders. Physicians, such as Obstetricians, Pediatricians, Family Practitioners and others, can play a key role in identifying a Perinatal Mood Disorder through routine screening and questions regarding the emotional well-being of the mother. Physicians can also help families navigate the often difficult path to recovery by assisting them in locating reliable treatment options to suit their needs. Treatment options typically include social support, psychotherapeutic intervention and sometimes psychotropic medications. Physicians can take the time to identify referral sources in their community and provide the family with options for recovery.
Mental health practitioners working with pregnant and postpartum families, including counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, can become educated on the proper methods for the treatment of Perinatal Mood Disorders through personal study or continuing education through organizations such as the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition or Postpartum Support International. Together, medical and mental health practitioners can work to provide a seamless continuum of care for postpartum families.
Families can prepare for the possibility of a Perinatal Mood Disorder before the baby comes. They can seek education about PMAD’s by visiting such websites as Postpartum Support International’s, http://www.postapartum.net/. They can locate resource options in their community, including: practical support from friends, family or the faith community, knowledgeable doctors or therapists, and where available, a postpartum support group. Families can also contact a postpartum support volunteer by calling Postpartum Support International’s toll-free hotline, 800-944-4PPD to receive support and resource options. Finally, families can seek to remember the motto of PSI, “You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.”
Together, practitioners and families can create a healthy pregnancy and postpartum experience. Through awareness, education, and strong treatment options families may expect a healthy “beginning of all things” and find peace in the words of an unknown author: “A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.”
Share your postpartum tips by leaving a comment!Read More