Nausea, tiredness, and swelling of the feet are usually what people think of when it comes to the effects of pregnancies. While physical symptoms are par for the course, what is usually not thought about enough are the mental symptoms a mom can experience.
When mental symptoms are envisioned, they are usually the mother being excited and longing for the arrival of her child. However, it is actually more common for pregnant women to experience a wide range of emotions during their pregnancies.
Understanding Your Emotions
As a Licensed Professional Counselor as well as a mother herself, Julie Ritchie has seen and experienced a wide range of emotions during pregnancy. “Most women feel a sense of excitement, fear, anxiety, and numerous other feelings when discussing pregnancy and motherhood,” says Ritchie. Because of these feelings, one would expect some relief once the baby is born, however, that is not always the case.
A commonality among women after they have given birth is a feeling called the “baby blues,” where the mother experiences feelings of sadness, stress, anxiety, or loneliness. While this is frequent among new mothers, some may experience the baby blues past the two week period.
Dr. Laura Betancourth, OB/GYN, a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer and mother herself, says that there can be a number of reasons as to why a mother can still feel down after the two week “baby blues” period. She explains, “Usually, women want some kind of company after the birth of their child. Throughout much of their pregnancy, expecting mothers are used to being taken care of by doctors and midwives looking to see how the baby is doing. However, once the baby is born, these visits generally come to a stop with the exception of a few checkups to see how the mother is doing.”
The loss of these frequent visits along with friends and loved ones giving the new mom space to be alone with her child can sometimes cause her to feel detached from others. Dr. Betancourth adds, “Women generally miss the care received from these visits and after their child’s birth, and they can feel isolated afterward.”
Triggering Postpartum Depression
Because of this, along with other causes of stress such as finances, familial trouble, or even stress caused by the pregnancy itself, this can be a trigger for a more extreme form of the baby blues, postpartum depression.
According to a study in the online edition of JAMA Psychiatry, about one in seven women experience postpartum depression after the birth of their child. Half of those mothers start to experience symptoms during their pregnancy. Unfortunately, there is a skewed image of what is truly going on. When someone pictures a new mother suffering from postpartum depression, the image is usually of a woman who is simply unhappy, however, there is more to it than that.
Dr. Renee Bruno, a psychiatrist, and Emily Stevens, director of Care Management, are part of a Social Service Team along with the team’s manager, Natalie Ingles, at Woman’s Hospital. Because of their work at Woman’s, all three have encountered women who have battled postpartum depression in their respective positions and have noticed that it is not just sadness that comes with the mood disorder.
“Postpartum depression can come with not only sadness, but anxiety in many forms. Although new motherhood comes with heightened emotions, on guard for protection of a new baby, this can become an exhausting fear of danger; intrusive scary thoughts of harm coming to her baby which frightens her; or physical surges of anxiety like chest tightness, shortness of breath, a feeling of panic when no danger is evident,” says the team.
Combating Postpartum Depression
With knowing the chances of developing postpartum depression, there are new OB/GYN guidelines to help combat the high number of postpartum cases in the United States.
Before, women were generally encouraged to visit their obstetric care provider about six weeks after the birth of their child. However, due to the increased risks regarding new mothers, time has been shortened to visit after about three or four weeks. By shortening the time, doctors hope to greatly decrease the number of postpartum depression cases in the United States. In the Baton Rouge area, these guidelines have not yet been implemented, however, there are still precautions that new mothers and their families can take to combat postpartum depression:
- “Seeking treatment immediately,” says Dr. Betancourth. “Doctors will often recommend both medication and counseling.”
- And for the doctors, “Ask specific questions in an open, non-judgmental conversation and listen to her openly, all while building a supportive environment to increase the chance of the mother seeing help,” adds Ritchie.
- Woman’s Hospital encourages women to call their OB/GYN to discuss symptoms and treatment options.
- There are psychiatrists and therapists to reach out to as well as a MOM2MOM support group every second and fourth Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Woman’s Hospital’s physician office building.
“Women are more likely to develop depression and anxiety during the first year after childbirth than at any other time in their life,” says the team from Woman’s Hospital. “However, they are not to blame, and she is just as surprised as to what is happening to her. Thankfully, prenatal mood and anxiety disorder can be temporary and treatable with support and professional help.”
“Reach out to an expecting or new mother and encourage them to have a community of people around to take a more interactive role with her.” –Dr. Laura Betancourth