Postpartum Depression: You're Still a Great Mom!
Catherine Ness, MA, LCPC
What is Postpartum Depression?
The first few weeks following a delivery tends to be an emotional rollercoaster for almost all women: You are adjusting physically, emotionally and psychologically to adding a new member to your family. Whether this is your first child or your seventh child, you are likely to experience fatigue, aches and pains, mood swings and periods of frustration. These symptoms are very normal during the first few weeks following birth. However, when you are constantly feeling overwhelmed, depressed and not able to see a light at the end of the tunnel several months following your child's birth, you may be experiencing postpartum depression
Major depression symptoms include: feelings of sadness, excessive tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness, trouble sleeping or oversleeping, weight loss or weight gain, irritability, increased use of substances (drugs, alcohol), loss of pleasure in activities that one use to enjoy, difficulty concentrating and thoughts about harming oneself.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can vary from mother to mother. These symptoms can range from feeling sad and experiencing tearfulness on a daily basis, to feeling resentment towards your child and having fleeting thoughts of harming your child. It is important to differentiate between major depression and postpartum depression. If you were experiencing significant depressive symptoms prior to pregnancy, the birth of your child, significant hormonal changes and the stressors of being a mother may be adding to a pre-existing depressive disorder.
Why Do I Feel this Way?
There are numerous reasons why women experience postpartum depression. If your child has colic and you have not had a good night sleep for the last 4 months, common sense dictates that you are physically exhausted which significantly affects your mood. Lack of a sufficient support system can also pay a large part in developing depression because you are not able to take time for yourself. For first time mothers who had specific expectations about a smiling, cooing infant who sleeps through the night and find that they have an infant who seems to never sleep and impossible to console, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration. Financial stressors, guilt over returning to work or feeling of a loss of personal identity, guilt over not wanting to breastfeed or being unable to breastfeed and marital stress can also play a part in developing these emotions. And as previously mentioned, if you had been dealing with depressive symptoms prior to pregnancy, postpartum issues may exacerbate these underlying issues.
What Can I Do?
The good news about postpartum depression is that the prognosis for improving your mood is high once treatment is sought. Individual therapy can be an invaluable tool in determining your specific trigger for these trouble thoughts and feelings and formulating a plan to improve your mood, decrease stress levels and learn how to enjoy motherhood. As a new mother myself, I understand how coordinating care of your child, working and making time for yourself can seem like a daunting challenge. I also understand each mother faces her own specific challenges and each situation is unique to mother and child. Therefore, I utilize emotion-focused therapy, empathizing with each mother's personal struggles and first focusing on addressing distressing emotions and then challenging negative thoughts. Treatment also includes identifying personal triggers for depressive symptoms and attacking these triggers one-by-one. Additionally, I assist you in building self-confidence and improving self-esteem so that you feel prepared to handle the challenges that lay ahead.
Group therapy is also beneficial because you are able to meet other women who are experiencing similar difficulties, letting you know that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. It is also important that you let your OBGYN or even your child's pediatrician know that you are struggling. If you do have people who you can rely on, a spouse, partner, family or friends, do not be afraid to reach out to these people for support even if it means just having someone watch your child while you go to a movie or if you want to go shopping solo.
Whatever your course of action, make sure that you reach out to someone. Part of being a great mother is recognizing when you need help. Experiencing these feelings have nothing to do with your ability to be a great mother, but they can get in the way of enjoying motherhood.
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