Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pregnancy & Birth: You Are Not Alone

“You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.”

(Postpartum Support International Training & Conference 2016)

by Melissa Christiansen, MA, LPC Intern

Supervised by Katrena Hart, MS, LPC Supervisor

At the end of June, I was lucky enough to attend an intensive training and annual conference focusing on a topic very close to my heart:  perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).  There is vast misinformation, undue expectation and a lack of support for mothers, fathers, partners and families during the transition to parenthood.  As a therapist, I want to help parents tell the real stories and gain the support they truly need.  PMADs are treatable, they are no one’s fault, and the mother and family will feel better again.

Postpartum Support International (PSI, postpartum.net) was founded in 1987 and has expanded to have members, volunteers and coordinators spreading perinatal information and support in 36 countries around the world. PSI’s goal is to provide current information, resources, education, and to advocate for further research and legislation to support perinatal mental health. 

It’s common for new mothers go through a period of mood changes caused by fluctuating hormones called the “baby blues,” which lasts no longer than about 2 weeks after childbirth.  This time can be marked by lower mood, sadness, tearfulness, and irritability. 

If these mood changes last beyond 2 weeks after childbirth, it’s likely that an anxiety or depressive disorder is the culprit.  One in seven (some statistics say one in five) mothers will develop a PMAD during pregnancy or after childbirth. Postpartum depression is often marked by sadness, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in normal activities (anhedonia), changes in eating and sleeping habits, and irritability.  Postpartum anxiety (and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder) can include symptoms such as racing thoughts, intrusive/scary thoughts of harm to self, baby or a loved one, increased anger, difficulty sleeping, and hypervigilance.

Postpartum psychosis, most often sensationalized in the media and misrepresented as depression, is very rare: only 1 or 2 women in 1000 births will be diagnosed.  Symptoms are severe and can include strange beliefs, hallucinations, paranoia, hyperactivity and difficulty communicating. 

While new mothers are most at risk for PMADs, one in ten new fathers also experiences a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.  Adoptive parents can suffer as well. 

The cultural pressure on new parents to feel nothing but joy at their new baby’s arrival, to host any number of well-meaning visitors right after the birth, all while keeping the house clean, maintaining independence and “not asking for too much help,” (and then returning to work within a few days or weeks) can exacerbate and prolong the symptoms of PMADs.  Let’s shift the focus and rebuild the village.  Family and friends can offer support and understanding by normalizing the new parents’ feelings, whatever they may be, and by quietly taking over household meals, chores, and care of older children. This loving care gives the new parents space and time to sleep, recover from the birth and to get to know their newest family member. If a new mother or father is suffering from a PMAD, help from family and friends is even more essential for recovery.

The birth or adoption of a child is a major life transition that requires lots of loving support.  As a member of Postpartum Support International, I can help you find information and guides for local as well as online support.  Contact me at Bridging Harts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 972.562.5002 x8. 


Bridging Harts Institute & Psychotherapy
203 S. Alma St. Suite #300
Allen, TX 75013
T: (972) 562 5002
Email: info@bridgingharts.com


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