Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are the leading complication of childbirth. It can be distressing when symptoms like feeling alone, racing thoughts, scary thoughts, irritability, crying spells, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, or other symptoms interfere with your pregnancy or postpartum experience. The good news is that there are many treatment options for PMADs and recovery is possible! Yes, parenthood is hard, but your shouldn’t have to suffer through it.
Let’s look at the variety of options that are available.
This may sound obvious, but many people feel guilt or shame that they are struggling, especially with societal messages that tell us to “enjoy every moment” and “isn’t the best”? Many people don’t even know where to begin when they are experiencing distress. Therapy is a good starting point.
Individual therapy can you navigate the isolation, interpersonal difficulties, and/or thoughts contributing to a PMAD.
Couple’s therapy can help strengthen the relationship you have with your partner. Sometimes difficulties in your relationship might be contributing to the difficulty you are experiencing with your mental health. A couple’s therapist can support communication, connection, conflict, division of labor concerns, and any other issues that might be contributing to a lack of connection or support.
Dyadic or family Therapy happens with both the parent experiencing a PMAD and their baby. This can help strengthen bonding and attachment while also being able to share your feelings.
Group therapy or a support group. Group therapy is a great way to share how you are feeling in a supportive environment with others who can relate and empathize with what you are going through.
PMADS can make us feel alone and isolated. We know that the opposing force to isolation is connection. Usually, the last thing we want to do when feeling anxious or depressed is reach out to connect with someone. Your brain may be telling you that you will be bothering the person you reach out to, but the truth is everyone needs connection whether or not they are experiencing mental health challenges.
Make a list of your closest supports, close supports, and extended supports. Some of these people may be more emotional supports and some may be more practical. You might reach out to go grab a cup of tea to get out of the house (super important) or you might ask them to send you a funny meme. Some may be the supports who provide food or come over to watch the baby so you can get some sleep. When you feel like you want to isolate, text someone to see if they are available to chat for a few minutes.
If your partner is one of your supports, ask them to take over grocery shopping, meal prep and cooking, making appointments or researching therapists, postpartum doulas, lactation support, baby wellness visits, etc. if they don’t already do this and the responsibility (thus the mental load) falls on you.
Join a Parent/Mommy and Me group.
Being with other parents with babies around the same age as yours can feel like a relief. Everyone is going through similar successes and challenges. This is a way to form friendships that can last for years.
I know this is a difficult choice for many people. There can be fears that you will be void of any emotion or that your personality will change. Maybe there is fear that medication is not safe during pregnancy or if you are breastfeeding. I see medication as another intervention to decrease the intensity of symptoms you might be feeling. Many medications are safe during pregnancy and if you are breastfeeding. Let’s face it, your hormones have shifted and sometimes medication is a great option to couple with therapy. For some people, their hormones are sensitive, especially if you have a history of PMDD. It’s certainly a personal choice, especially if have been conditioned to “tough it out.”
Some other treatment options for PMADs are about self-care.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
This is extremely difficult in the beginning, especially if you are exclusively breastfeeding. Talking to a lactation consultation about your options can be important because they will be able to guide you if you are concerned about your milk supply. Maybe you pump or supplement with formula and have your partner or another support do the first or second feeding in the night. Again, if you are concerned about your supply.
Making sure you eat.
When you are depressed or anxious, you may not have the desire to eat. However, it’s still important to your health. Try to at least eat a balance of snacks throughout the day that will support your nutritional needs.
Go outside and get some sunlight.
We know light can be important when depression occurs, especially if you have a history of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Being in nature can also help calm the nervous system.
Move your body or exercise.
While you are outside, maybe you take a walk. If you have someone to watch the baby, taking a walk by yourself can give you a break that you need. Moderate exercise can increase serotine levels which can increase mood. It can be hard to motivate yourself to do this, but think of it like part of a prescription to support recovery.
Take time for yourself.
This may take some negotiation with your partner, but it’s important that both of you have your own time in order to feel a little more like yourselves and take some pressure off you. If you are struggling with anxiety, this might be really hard. You may need to address the automatic thoughts that say only you can take care of your baby. Your partner needs alone time to bond and learn the new skills of helping sooth the baby and learn baby’s cues.
The following are some ways to support your different treatment options.
Avoid social media.
The perfectly curated lives you see on social media are not the whole story. Comparison can make us feel bad about ourselves, wondering why it’s so easy for everyone else when it’s hard for us to cope. If you have anxiety, social media can increase anxiety with all the different advice you see. Social media also takes time away from other things we could do to take care of ourselves.
For some people certain scents can lift or calm them. Pleasant smells can help ground us when we feel overwhelmed. Having some soaps or lotions with scents you enjoy can support the other treatment options already listed.
Motherhood is hard, but you shouldn’t have to suffer. If something doesn’t feel right, trust yourself. There are many options for treatment available to you. You deserve to feel better.
If you’re a mom in California or Texas needing some extra support, please contact me for a free brief consultation.
Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional.