Unpacking Postpartum Mental Health Issues

I have been back and forth with myself over writing this post, but I realized that some of my most popular blogs have been informational in nature (like when I talked about breastmilk and formula objectively, or wrote about fitness in a relatively researched manner). As such, I figured this piece could be of some help to people, so I thought what the hey. Here goes nothing.

A few weeks after I gave birth to our second late last year, I started to get the Baby Blues. This is fairly standard, and I’d been through the same with my first child, so I thought it would likely fade in a few weeksHowever, come the 3 month mark, the Blues had given way to something else, something relatively new: anxiety. This anxiety wasn’t particularly crippling, but it was irritating to say the least. It would strike without warning at any time, causing my heart to race, palms to sweat, stomach to drop, and so on. I would randomly experience a sense of doom, and my searches with Dr. Google told me maybe it was a pulmonary embolism (yes…I know that sounds crazy coming from a relatively fit, young woman not even in her 30s, but there were a lot of DailyMail articles about women just like me who…..OH NEVERMIND. You catch my drift). 

A week before our Christmas trip home, I decided to see my GP (General Physician) just for some peace of mind. After hearing out my symptoms (and gently talking me off my “I have a blood clot in my lungs, I’m going to die” ledge), he said: “It could be postpartum anxiety, or it could simply be lack of sleep.” I was sent on my way with a clean bill of health and advice to take it easy back home (with more help, and more time to rest) and come back in the new year if the symptoms wouldn’t go away even after getting more shuteye.

Suffice to say, it’s gotten worse, and now not only am I battling PPA (postpartum anxiety), but some days it feels a whole lot like PPD (postpartum depression) too. But. How is this possible? My baby is 6 months old! It can’t happen like this. Can it?

Well. If you’re reading this, and it resonates with you, you are not alone. YES, it can happen this late in the game. YES, it sucks. But NO, it won’t be the end of you. NO, you are not a bad mother. And NO, you don’t have to go it alone. I write this post for myself on one hand, but more than anything I write it for youIf you are a mama struggling, here are some things I’ve learned as I’ve begun accepting that I am on this journey.

First, some myths about postpartum mood disorders I once beat myself up with:

  1. All postpartum mood disorders are the same as the baby blues. They go away on their own.” — Actually, noThe baby blues happen to 80% of all women who have children, and they tend to occur closer to when you’ve given birth. They can last several weeks, and they can feel often like fatigue, a heavy heart, and so on. While they share a lot of similarities with Postpartum Depression, the key is the severity. And while the Baby Blues always go away on their own, PPD doesn’t. It could happen that it does for you, but in many cases it doesn’t. And if left untreated it can sometimes turn into chronic depression. If you feel your symptoms are quite severe, get help. There’s no shame in it
  2. “At the end of the day my PPD is my problem to deal with. Nobody else’s.” — Again, no. Ever heard the saying happy mom, happy baby? What about happy wife, happy life? The stronger, less tired, more positive, less stressed you feel about yourself, the better you are for the people around you – especially those who rely on you (your baby) and care deeply for you (your spouse). They say that spouses’ chances of developing a mood disorder after a baby comes home are as high as 10% in normal situations, but immediately jump to 25-50% if their wife is experiencing a perinatal mood disorder. As such, it’s a good idea to get good help in good time
  3. “Perinatal mood disorders occur only close to when you’ve given birth.” — Nope. Actually, they can occur any time within the first year of giving birth. That doesn’t mean that you need to be afraid you’ll get one if you don’t have one yet, but it does mean that if you do develop one in that first year postpartum, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself about it
  4. “Wow. I’m a failure. Something must be wrong with me. I’m a bad mother/wife/person for this to have happened.” — Not true. This line of thinking is surprisingly common, and people need to be open about it and supportive of one another if we want things to get better for everyone. (Also, that’s probably the Depression talking, so by all means feel free to tell it to go fluff off and think mean thoughts somewhere else; or get a psychotherapist to help you tell it that if it’s not within your can to do so yourself)

 And nooowww, some coping mechanisms:

  1. Be kind to yourself. — Whether you’re a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) or a Working Mama, or somewhere in between, mothering is a tough job. You don’t get breaks from it, you don’t get paid overtime, and your boss is usually a small quarrelsome person with bad communication skills. All things considered, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing great. Take it easy on yourself
  2. Know your triggers. — Pay close attention to what might trigger an “episode” (a feeling of doom, an anxiety attack, a heavy heart, tears, etc), and try your best to anticipate those triggers so you can at least be mentally prepared
  3. Do what fills your cup. — To be able to give love and time and energy, you must have it in stores. As such, it helps to have a full cup if you intend to pour a piece of yourself into someone or something else (and as a mom that’s 90% of your life right there: giving of yourself). For me, I’ve noticed that time with my kids, exercise, prayer, date nights, and vegetables (yes…veggies! Especially the green kinds), make it much, much easier for me to control my mood swings; and help keep the lows from going “too low”. As such, I try to give myself as much of that as I can. I go to the gym at lunch breaks, I come home early enough for at least one breastfeed and several “read-alouds” before bedtime a few nights a week, and my husband and I go on date night once every 10 days or so. This helps me cope and “refills my cup”
  4. Exercise. — I mentioned this above as something that “fills my cup”, but this also deserves its own call-out because it’s that important. Exercise releases endorphins (HAPPY HORMONES!) into your blood stream that help you regulate your moods, and give you a little energy boost. It’s a great natural “anti-depressant”
  5. Eat well. — I also mentioned this above, but it again deserves its own point, becuase we are what we eat. And if we constantly eat junk (read: things that are deep fried, or addled with extra sugars, etc, etc), then we will feel junky too. Try to eat more natural foods that are full of vitamins and minerals to help boost your energy and health stores, and as a result also manage your hormones. A good example of how food affects your mood is that across much research in the recent past, a clear link between folate deficiency and depression has been found. So to help reverse some of those symptoms of depression, it helps to eat a lot of dark leafy veggies (kale, spinach, etc), legumes like lentils, and asparagus. That’s only one example, mind you. There are many more. I’ve included a link to one of my favorite articles on this topic in the Sources below this post
  6. Lastly, think of what might help you, then ask for it. — Will seeing a shrink help? Find one. Will your partner being more supportive help? Talk it over. Might it help if you can get a babysitter for a few hours a day during the week to take a short break for yourself? Do it. Whatever it is that you think might help you, seek it. There’s no shame in asking for help

I hope that this entry, despite being long, was of some help to you. And if you ever need a listening ear, just leave a comment with your email and I’ll happily reach out. We have to support each other; and if you need that support, I’m happy to share it.

1. AmericanPregnancy.org
2. TheGuardian (Seven Ways to Eat Your Way Out of Depression)
3. University of North Carolina on Perinatal Mood Disorders



2 thoughts on “Unpacking Postpartum Mental Health Issues

  1. Very helpful notes Lexi, esp for those in their child-beating years! Glad you are very self aware and doing all you need to understand and cope with and get through these tough post-partum conditions!!

    Sent from my iPhone


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