1 in 5 new and expecting mothers experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) often referred to as postpartum depression (PPD) or “postpartum.” In fact, the term PMADs covers a variety of different disorders including Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Postpartum Generalized Anxiety Disorder. PMADs are one of the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth, yet one of the most misunderstood.
For a long time, PMADs have not been a part of the public discourse surrounding motherhood, due to the stigma of mental health and the shame and guilt that expecting and new moms experience. When PMADs have made it into the news, it’s been to sensationalize the more severe cases with the most tragic outcomes. However, with more public awareness and well-known women coming forward and sharing their own personal struggles with PMADs, the conversation is beginning to change.
OBGYNs and Pediatricians are starting to screen women more frequently for PMADs and are referring them for treatment. With this wave of rising awareness, it’s important to recognize the facts vs. the myths of PMADs.
Here are 5 common misconceptions about PMADs:
1. The baby blues and postpartum depression are the same. FALSE.
Up to 80% of new mothers will experience the baby blues. The “blues” occur within the first two weeks after delivery and are typically described by feeling extra emotional or more sensitive than usual and a bit weepy. If a woman continues to experience these feelings beyond 2 weeks, and the feelings are more intense, including: frequent crying, sleep and appetite disruption, irritability or rage, anxiety and more, it is likely that she is experiencing PPD or a PMAD.
About 10-20% of all new mothers experience PMADs after delivering a baby. Symptoms can manifest immediately after delivery or at any time up to 12 months postpartum. Also of note? PMADs often start during pregnancy -- even more reason to remember that establishing habits of self-care and mental care -- not only after baby, but leading up to birth -- is key.
2. PMADs are really rare. FALSE.
This is just not the case. Trained mental health providers recognize that PMADs are incredibly common, and that with treatment, women feel better.
1 in 5 expecting and new mothers suffer from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), including PPD. This number only includes women who report their symptoms. (Many PMAD specialists think it’s more like 1 in 3.)
So often, women are ashamed of the way they are feeling and fear they will be judged or seen as a terrible mother. This fear causes them to hide their real feelings, isolate, and feel even more alone...which invariably makes things worse (and feel more intense) rather than better.
3. Having a PMAD is somehow your fault. FALSE.
PMADs are not something women choose to have. These illnesses affect 10–20% of all women due to a number of indicators including: a history of depression or anxiety, increased life stressors, complications during pregnancy and birth, and a history of abuse or trauma.
Women often blame themselves for having PMADs. They feel guilty for not enjoying new motherhood, for not finding it blissful, and for not feeling connected to their babies: “I should be loving this,” “I should be better at this,” “I should be like that other mom.”
It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. And the good news is you will feel better with treatment.
4. PMADs will go away on their own. FALSE.
PMADs are serious illnesses that require professional help. In some very mild to moderate cases, PMADs may subside over time. But in more severe cases, women require treatment to feel better. Treatment can take the form of various interventions: Talk therapy, medication and support groups, and in more acute cases, a day program or inpatient hospitalization.
Often times, well-meaning friends and family may say things like “This too shall pass”, or “It’s normal to feel a little down or anxious after you have a baby” or “Snap out of it and focus on the positive!”
When you are experiencing postpartum depression or any other PMAD, remind yourself: it doesn’t just go away on its own, it’s not normal but it’s common, and it’s impossible to snap out of these symptoms without treatment. The good news is, that with treatment, everyone feels better.
5. Women with PMADs will hurt their kids. FALSE.
Many women fear that if they speak to a professional about their depression, anxiety, or scary thoughts, their baby will be taken away from them.
When PMADs make it to the news, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. The media typically will report on a mom that has caused harm to herself or to her child due to her illness. Women with PPD or other PMADs do not harm themselves or their children. In very rare instances, approximately 1 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries, a woman experiences postpartum psychosis. The onset is usually very sudden within the first 2 weeks postpartum. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:
· Delusions or strange beliefs
· Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
· Feeling highly irritable
· Decreased need for or inability to sleep
· Paranoia and suspiciousness
· Rapid mood swings
· Difficulty communicating at times
Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable with professional help, but it is an emergency situation,and it is essential to get immediate help. If you feel that you or someone you know may be suffering from postpartum psychosis, call 911.
Paige Bellenbaum, LMSW is the Program Director at The Motherhood Center. After experiencing severe postpartum and depression after the birth of her son, once she got better she made it her plight to ensure that women would not have to suffer as she had. In 2016, she joined forces with The Motherhood Center founders, Dr. Catherine Birndorf and Billy Ingram, and together, with an excellent team of reproductive Psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and specialists, treatment for mild to severe PPD symptoms is available for pregnant and new moms that are suffering. And the good news is, with treatment - everyone feels better.
If you think you have PPD - Call The Motherhood Center - 212.335.0034. We are here to tell you for sure if you have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. And more importantly, if you do, we will provide the treatment you need to feel better. With the right treatment, EVERYONE feels better.