Maternal Mental Health Matters
I can’t create a website about exclusive pumping without addressing maternal mental wellness. Breastfeeding can be harder than people expect, and few women are prepared for the mental and physical demands of exclusive pumping on top of everything else in the newborn stage. Take care of yourself. Your family needs you.
Emergency care- Dial 911
If you are at risk of hurting yourself or others
National Suicide Prevention Helpline- 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255)
Postpartum mental health disorders are real and deserve care. You deserve to know why you’re feeling the way you do, and you deserve help. This page is only the tip of the iceburg- I’ll provide some helpful infographics to help you identify what you might be feeling and some professionals to help you navigate those feelings.
Mental health issues are the MOST COMMON complications
of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting approximately 1 in 5 women
during pregnancy or the first year after being pregnant.
Postpartum depression is a serious mental illness that involves the brain and affects your behavior and physical health. If you have depression, then sad, flat, or empty feelings don’t go away and can interfere with your day-to-day life. You might feel unconnected to your baby, as if you are not the baby’s mother, or you might not love or care for the baby. These feelings can be mild to severe. (Women’s Health. Gov)
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, and may eventually interfere with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin earlier ― during pregnancy ― or later — up to a year after birth. (From Mayo Clinic)
Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
“Postpartum” means the time after childbirth. Most women get the “baby blues,” or feel sad or empty, within a few days of giving birth. For many women, the baby blues go away in 3 to 5 days. If your baby blues don’t go away or you feel sad, hopeless, or empty for longer than 2 weeks, you may have postpartum depression. Feeling hopeless or empty after childbirth is not a regular or expected part of being a mother. (From Mayo Clinic)
In addition to generalized anxiety, there are some specific forms of anxiety that you should know about. One is Postpartum Panic Disorder. This is a form of anxiety with which the sufferer feels very nervous and has recurring panic attacks. During a panic attack, she may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, claustrophobia, dizziness, heart palpitations, and numbness and tingling in the extremities. Panic attacks seem to go in waves, but it is important to know that they will pass and will not hurt you.
Postpartum and antepartum anxiety are temporary and treatable with professional help. If you feel you may be suffering from one of these illnesses, know that it is not your fault and you are not to blame. You can use this resource page to reach out now. We understand what you are going through and will connect you to people who understand and can help. (From Postpartum Support International)
Postpartum anxiety is more intense than typical new parent worrying. It’s also more persistent. What differentiates such anxiety from regular new mom concerns is that the worries are more extreme, and typically not based on any real problem or threat. (From What to Expect)
A mom suffering from postpartum anxiety may experience the following symptoms:
- Dread or a sense of danger
- Racing thoughts
- A persistent feeling of being on edge, like something is about to go terribly wrong
- Excessive worry about the baby’s health, development or safety
- An overwhelming sense of burden, stress and concern about the ability to be a good parent
- A persistent case of the jitters or a constant agitated feeling
- Insomnia or trouble falling or staying asleep, even though she’s exhausted
- Changes in heart rate and breathing, including elevated heartbeat, rapid breathing and/or chest pain, especially if the anxiety takes the form of panic attacks
- Chills and/or hot flashes
These days, most of us have heard of postpartum depression, and that’s a very good thing. It means there is less stigma around having postpartum depression and seeking treatment for it. Yet what many of us don’t realize is that there is more to postpartum depression than feeling sad and hopeless. Postpartum depression encompasses many symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, and misery. But the symptom that many surprise you most is rage. (From VeryWellFamily)
Postpartum rage differs from person to person, and can vary a lot based on your situation. Many women describe times when they physically or verbally lash out over something that otherwise wouldn’t bother them. According to Lisa Tremayne, RN, PMH-C, founder of The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness and director of the Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Center at Monmouth Medical Center in New Jersey, symptoms of postpartum rage can include:
- struggling to control your temper
- increased amount of screaming or swearing
- physical expressions like punching or throwing things
- violent thoughts or urges, perhaps directed at your spouse or other family members
- dwelling on something that made you upset
- being unable to “snap out of it” on your own
- feeling a flood of emotions immediately afterwards
Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a severe, but treatable, form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby. It can happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without previous experience of mental illness. There are some groups of women, women with a history of bipolar disorder for example, who are at much higher risk. PP normally begins in the first few days to weeks after childbirth. It can get worse very quickly and should always be treated as a medical emergency. Most women need to be treated with medication and admitted to hospital. Postpartum psychosis is the label used by most professionals for an episode of mania or psychosis with onset soon after childbirth. However, other names can be used and this can be confusing. You might hear the terms: Puerperal Psychosis; Postnatal Psychosis; Mania or Bipolar Disorder triggered by childbirth (this doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner will develop ongoing Bipolar Disorder); Schizoaffective Disorder with onset following childbirth (this doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner will develop ongoing Schizoaffective Disorder); Postnatal Depression with psychotic features.
With the right treatment, women with PP do make a full recovery. Recovery takes time and the journey may be tough. The illness can be frightening and shocking for both the woman experiencing it and her family. Women do return to their normal selves, and are able to regain the mothering role they expected. There is no evidence that the baby’s long term development is affected by postpartum psychosis. (From Action on Postpartum Psychosis)
One of the most helpful things I learned before becoming a new mother was this: It’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE to hold the same level of emotion through a 10-count of breathing.
There have been times when I had to put baby down in their pack’n’play and put MYSELF in time-out for a minute. As long as baby is in a safe place, you can WALK AWAY and gather yourself. It’s super okay to lose your cool, just walk away and gather yourself. Cry if you need to, yell if you need to. Take 10 controlled breaths if that feels comfortable to you, and you’ll feel that tension slowly fade. Your breaths may shutter at first, but by breath number 10 you’ll most likely not be as emotional/worked up.
What do YOU do to calm down?
Melissa’s Experience with Post Partum Anxiety:
I struggled with a postpartum mood disorder.
From instagram- “Last fall was really hard. At first I thought it was because I had a really fussy baby and hated being on maternity leave. But it slowly occurred to me that something was off with me, mentally, not just my baby. I distinctly remember texting my husband at at work just saying… something is wrong.
Apparently, it was October 8th [picture]. I remember crying as I wrote this message with sharpie on my breastmilk freezer bag.
I remember feeling like NO ONE understood just how bad i felt because it didn’t “look” like postpartum depression (which it wasn’t), and I wasn’t struck down with some visible physical illness (maybe then I would have gotten some help? Bitter laugh) It was more internal, stuff only I could see, and sometimes my husband. Bouts of crying, night and day, often while laying on the floor. Midnight exasperation and resentment toward my baby girl. Fear of getting fired because my baby would cry during virtual meetings. My mind making my body physically sick. Anxiety attacks and hearing things. Constantly spinning mind, intrusive thoughts and rage and paranoia, nausea. Unable and maybe unwilling to bond with her because of all this.
“Something needed to change.” For sure. For sure, but how?
I talked to a maternal wellness counselor who helped me realize it was Postpartum Anxiety. I met with a therapist to develop tools for this anxiety. I got some help at home. Got dietary and sleep help for my fussy baby, who did a 180 and turned into a delightful child. Going back to work helped immensely. Voicing my issues to a few close friends helped. People don’t always believe or realize what you’re going through… and sometimes you’re afraid or unsure about how to ask for help.
But please momma. Please know that you are worthy of receiving help. Please know that postpartum depression, rage, and anxiety are REAL ILLNESSES and can be treated. You and your baby deserve it.”
- Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance
- U.S. Dept of Health: Women’s Health
- National Perinatal Association
My Favorite Instagram Resources
- IG: @dralicepysd Web: https://momdocpsychology.com
- IG: @happyasamother Web: https://happyasamother.co/igwelcome
- IG: @motherhoodredefined.co Web: https://www.motherhoodredefined.co/
- IG: @momsmaternalhealth Web: https://www.momsmaternalhealth.com/mental-health
- IG: @MotherhoodUnderstood Web: https://www.motherhood-understood.com/
- IG: @psychedmommy Web: https://www.psychedmommy.com/
- IG: @notmothergoose Web: https://cpmhc.ca/timeforaction/
- IG: @mommysbundle Web: https://mommysbundle.com/resources-instagram/
- IG: @igototherapy