Have you ever laid awake after a midnight feeding with tears in your eyes wondering if what you are feeling is “normal”? You wanted this baby so badly. You expected to be overwhelmed with joy. While you do feel joy at times, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed with anxiety, frustration, and sadness for most of your days. Everyone warned you that you might feel the “baby blues” but you never expected it to feel like this.
The “baby blues” is a naturally occurring event that happens to most women a few days after giving birth. This may look like crying for no reason, mood swings, and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Not only do many women experience these emotions, but we have been socialized to believe that it is part of motherhood. We have to “suck it up” to take care of our children.
But what if it continues? Maybe you have heard of postpartum depression and women who’ve had thoughts of killing their child. Maybe that’s not what you’re experiencing, but something doesn’t feel quite right. While it is true that after giving birth, hormones may cause you to feel a bit of sadness, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) occur in around 10 to 15 percent of women. If you are finding that what you are experiencing is severe and lasting for more than two weeks, it may be more than just baby blues.
Some things that may increase your chances of experiencing PMADs are:
- A history of anxiety or depression
- A difficult pregnancy or traumatic birth
- Stressful life situations including lack of support or finances
- A family history of postpartum depression
- Difficulty breastfeeding
- Twins and multiple births
However, PMADs are highly treatable. If we can learn the signs and when to reach out for assistance, it is possible to feel relief within months.
Here are some signs that you may be experiencing PMADs.
Anxiety and Intrusive Thoughts
Anxiety and intrusive thoughts are one of the symptoms of PMADs that can make it extremely hard for new mothers to care for their babies in the way they envisioned. Maybe you are attempting to nurse the baby and picturing dropping them on the floor. Perhaps you are obsessing over if the baby is breathing. Scary thoughts and images just won’t go away, such as, you and the baby getting hurt in a car accident. These thoughts can feel so real it’s almost as if the situation is playing out right in front of you. You can feel the nervousness in your belly, the nausea arise as you picture something bad happening to your baby, and the headache descend. These thoughts are common for mothers with PMADs. They are frequent, scary, and feel very real.
Lots of women also feel overwhelming bouts of sadness and depression. If you are experiencing PMADs, you may be wondering if your baby or your family would be better off without you. You may have thought about running away. Or even that you aren’t cut out to be a mother. This is more than you signed up for. And then there’s the shame, “if I were to say these thoughts out loud, does that make me a “bad mother?” You are not alone. These thoughts and feelings are common for women experiencing PMADs.
Anger and Irritability
Anger is also a common symptom which many women experience. You may find yourself resenting your partner as you lie awake feeding the baby and they are sleeping. Fury surges. Your entire life has been turned upside down, and your partner is not been impacted nearly as much. You may find that you are more irritable than usual, and responding to family and friends harshly with no warning.
Any new mom will tell you that lack of sleep is part of motherhood. But what if you haven’t slept in days? In between feedings you may lay in bed consumed with anxiety wondering if baby is breathing ok or when they will need to eat next.
Have you ever heard of phantom baby crying? You’re in the shower and you hear your baby crying, only to come out and learn that there was no crying at all. This is a common phenomenon that happens to new mothers. But what if you hear or see other things that are not there? If you are experiencing hallucinations, feeling disconnected from reality, you may be experiencing what is called postpartum psychosis.
So often women keep these thoughts private, even to their partners. Fears blossom of how you will be viewed, arousing worry that your baby could be taken away from you. These are common reasons why some mothers may not ask for help.
“It was so hard to wrap my head around needing help” stated 29 year old mother of one.
For this mother help meant many things – help with the dishes, help getting some alone time, and even help getting the therapy and medication she needed. “Once I sought assistance, I felt guilty for not doing it sooner. I spent a lot of time suffering needlessly” she stated.
Motherhood can be a shock to your system. Your entire identity shifts, leaving you wondering who you are in this new role. Perhaps you are adjusting to your new role as a stay at home mother, or trying to balance being a working mom. Some anxiety and sadness is common among almost 80 percent of women. However, if how you are feeling is impacting your life and parenting, and lasting for over two weeks you may be experiencing PMADs.
PMADs are temporary. They are often caused by a naturally occurring change in hormones after birth. Most PMADs are resolved after a year. However, with therapy and sometimes medication, they can resolve even sooner. If any of this sounds like you, it may be time to reach out for help. Seeking assistance is brave. Just remember moms – this is temporary, there is help available, and you can find relief!
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Jessica is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping those struggling with postpartum depression and birth trauma. Jessica creates a safe place for her clients to share their stories and develop the necessary skills to thrive. Jessica specializes in treatment for children, families, and mothers.