The New York Times recently reported on a remarkable study affirming that pregnancy actually changes the physical structure of the brain, and that these changes last well into the postpartum period and beyond. This research corroborates what most new moms already know; becoming a mother is a wholly transformative experience, yielding not only the birth of a new life, but also the emergence of a new maternal soul. With all the chemical, physical, and environmental changes a baby can bring, it’s no surprise that many of us can feel overwhelmed, anxious and sad. But how do we know when the emotional tumult we feel will resolve swiftly on its own, or when there may be something more substantial going on? PROnatal Advisory Board Member Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT, a licensed social worker and author of Mother Matters, sheds some light on this topic, and how to de-code how you are feeling.
Is it just “Baby Blues”?
“Baby blues” are an extremely common side effect of birth. In the immediate days postpartum, the hormonal re-calibration can leave up to 80% of mothers with episodes of sadness and tearfulness. True baby blues generally resolve on their own after several days, and typically do not require treatment. However, if these episodes persist through a couple of weeks, and/or if they are accompanied by additional symptoms (which we’ll explore later), this may be a sign of a more serious issue.
When It Could Be Something More
As many as 1 in 5 moms and moms-to-be will experience some form of mental health disturbance during or after pregnancy, making mental health disorders the most common complication around birth. It is critically important to keep in mind that any negative feelings we may experience are not our fault, nor are they a reflection of the love we have for our child. Often, they have a biological or genetic basis (or both.) The good news is that perinatal mental health disorders are nearly always treatable. Talk therapy with an empathic and experienced clinician can offer great relief, and will sometimes be used in combination with medication. As a matter of good practice, Ob/Gyns, midwives and pediatricians should be screening new and expectant moms to gauge their mental health status. Still, no one knows us better than we know ourselves. And since these issues affect so many of us, we owe it to ourselves, and our child(ren) to do a self-check on our own well-being. After all, “mothercare” is an essential part of childcare, and understanding when we require some additional support is good mothering, indeed. The questions that follow may help you determine if you need to take action to get the care you need.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Think about how you’ve been feeling over the last two weeks. During this time, have you…
- Been less interested in activities that typically bring you pleasure?
- Noticed changes in your eating or sleeping habits (apart from the influence of your baby?)
- Felt highly or unusually anxious?
- Cried often or uncontrollably?
- Found yourself repeating certain activities (like cleaning the dishes or washing your hands), in spite of wanting to stop
- Experienced recurring or intrusive thoughts, perhaps about hurting your baby or yourself?* If so, call 911.
If you answered “yes,” to one or more of these questions, you may benefit from speaking with your healthcare provider who can assist you in reclaiming your psychological well-being — which is just as important as your physical health. Call your primary care physician, Ob/Gyn, midwife or pediatrician for a referral, or contact Postpartum Support International at www.postpartum.net. For more information, www.daynamkurtz.com
**The content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or your overall health.**