About eight to 10 percent of women who have given birth experience postpartum depression (PPD), a condition that even with the widespread awareness campaign continues to get shunned because "it's just hormones." But, as experts have said, it isn't the only condition that plagues new moms.
About 15 to 20 percent of new moms suffer from PMADs, or perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. These include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even psychosis and bipolar disorder that occur after giving birth and even beyond when the children are already in their teens. Classifying PMADs is helpful for women who think only PPD sufferers need support or treatment. (Check out symptoms for each here).
So how can you help a mother suffering from PMADs? Here are the steps you and your family can take.
1. Acknowledge and accept PMADs.
A mom who is suffering from PMADs shouldn't have to bear the burden alone or merely endure. It's okay not to feel emotions associated with motherhood (the kind of euphoric joy you often see on TV or movies). Fear and self-doubt are common emotions for any mom. There is no shame in admitting not-so-happy thoughts, and it's better to talk about them rather than keep it all to yourself for fear of being judged.
"These inner experiences don't indicate their worthiness as mothers," said Sarah Best, a licensed clinical social worker and collaborative psychotherapist in New York. "Women express tremendous relief when they realize that their scariest, most shameful symptom is something others also experience, and something we know how to treat," she wrote in an article for Seleni Institute.
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2. Make time for self-care.
Once you understand that it's a condition and it can be treated, you need to make time for yourself and put your needs on top of your priorities. "Small interventions can be beneficial,” Dr. Catherine Birndorf, founder and medical director of The Motherhood Center in New York City, which specializes in perinatal or postpartum mental health, tells The Child Mind Institute.
It can be as simple as taking a good long bath, watching a favorite show or movie, going out to dinner or a long quiet walk outdoors. Learning to meditate only takes a few minutes of your days and many apps can help. The point is do what feels good for you. You can also start a journal, to keep track of your thoughts and feelings. This may help you talk about them, too, with your partner or a therapist.
It's time to get quality sleep, especially if exhaustion almost feels like a daily occurence. "Impaired sleep can contribute to the initial development of a PMAD, be a sign that one has set in, or make daily symptoms worse," Best explained. "Woman experiencing a PMAD needs good sleep restored to recover," she stressed.
Set a bedtime routine, use your bed only for sleep (and sex), and avoid caffeine. It's easier than it seems when you read it, especially if you have a newborn who needs to feed every one to three hours. You need to be purposeful in making arrangements so you can get some sleep. Assign shifts in taking care of your baby. Hire a night nurse, if you can.
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4. Start an exercise routine.
"Regular exercise reduces depressive symptoms as effectively as treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)," said Best. But even if you're already taking medication, exercise still helps in "increasing energy, metabolizing stress hormones, helping women get out of their heads and into their bodies, and providing an outlet for mastery and control."
Just thinking of exercising after nursing all night and nappy changes may leave you feeling tired, but it's important to take baby steps in developing an exercise regimen that works for you. It helps if you enjoy the activity that makes you sweat, like a dance class, or when you have an exercise buddy to help motivate you to get active.
Even if your partner and your family have your back, there's no harm in reaching out for more emotional and social support. Seeking professional help is most ideal. Postpartum psychosis, for instance, requires immediate care and hospitalization so your doctor can monitor your behavior properly.
"Getting help when you need it is the point. If you’re struggling, finding a therapist who you feel comfortable developing a relationship with and who understands your needs is more important than finding a specialist," Dr. Bindorf stressed.
Joining or attending support groups for women who have similar experiences can be a big help, too. You can be reassured that you are not alone and give you ideas what other moms are dealing with and how they overcome challenges moving forward.
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Don't be afraid to reach out if you are feeling anxious, helpless, or despondent. If you need someone to talk to: