Understanding Mom’s Emotions in the Postpartum Period

Dr. Amna Husain: How would a woman know she is experiencing depression or anxiety postpartum?

Bernadette Hubbs: It can be difficult.  Many women are unsure if they are experiencing Postpartum Depression/Anxiety or if it is the Baby Blues. The Baby Blues is short term (2 weeks postpartum) and is considered a normal part of postpartum adjustment.  After 2 weeks, if emotionally you are still not feeling well, you may be experiencing PPD or a PMAD. (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder). This term encompasses both mood and anxiety disorders that occur during pregnancy and into the postpartum period. 

Dr. Amna Husain: I think I can safely say I experienced the postpartum blues, and from what I understand it’s pretty common for most women.  It’s a huge period of transition psychologically, emotionally, and physiologically.  How common is PPD?

Bernadette Hubbs: PPD is more common than many women think.  PPD affects 7 out of 10 women, even women with no prior history or episode of anxiety or depression. It likely results from a combination of biological, genetic, psychological and environmental factors (stressors) in your life.

Dr. Amna Husain: That makes total sense. An infant in your life while an incredible blessing can of course, be a huge stressor.  What kind of symptoms should women be on the lookout for with PPD?

Bernadette Hubbs: There’s a wide variety of symptoms, and you can have all of them or just a few. It is characterized by frequent crying, mood swings, irritability, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, loss of sexual interest, anxiety, intrusive/ scary thoughts, feelings of inadequacy & hopelessness.  Some women may not even experience the depressive symptoms, so therefore do not relate with the term Postpartum Depression.  Many women experience it as Postpartum Anxiety, which can include pervasive feelings of anxiety, panic, worry and/or  OCD symptoms.

Dr. Amna Husain: You know, after becoming a mom, I can see that.  You are in charge of a human being-from what they eat, wear, sleep, everything.  I mean, when my daughter was younger, I definitely felt some anxiety when taking her out or planning errands around her routine.

Bernadette Hubbs: Exactly.  Motherhood is by far one of the biggest transitions that a woman goes through. And while the experience brings forth many beautiful moments, those moments are also filled with feeling physically, mentally and emotionally drained all at the same time. Quite often, many women may not admit any struggles they may be having, in fear of being misunderstood and judged, or viewed as a bad mom.  Sometimes, women will conceal how they are feeling, as if they have to keep it a secret from everyone else.

Dr. Amna Husain: Why do you think that is?  Do you think it’s because as women, we feel we should be grateful that we have a family and think we have no right to complain about it?

Bernadette Hubbs: There is a large stigma that surrounds PPD. I feel the stigma exists because there’s an assumption that when you become a mother, it is supposed to be a joyful time filled with happy moments.  However, that is not the exact experience for every mom.  These feelings can create a barrier to treatment for many women because they may view themselves as being inadequate or feel shame and guilt for needing help.

Dr. Amna Husain: And one of the best things a mother can do for not just herself but also her child is to get help.  I’m lucky that in my practice, I’m able to see mothers for extended periods of time and do PPD screenings multiple times in the first year.  If needed, we can start therapy early which is show to be quite beneficial, right?

Bernadette Hubbs: Absolutely.  PPD is very treatable. One of the most effective ways to help PPD is by being treated by a therapist who is trained to recognize the symptoms related to this condition, for example a Maternal Mental Health Specialist or Perinatal Mental Health Specialist. If necessary, medication has also been shown to help in combination with therapy. 

Dr. Amna Husain: I think something that was important for me, and I wish I could tell other mothers was to develop a support network before hand.  Don’t just accept that your spouse or husband is good enough.  Often times, they are, and our husband can be wonderful, but becoming a father is an adjustment period too.  I think it’s nice to have other people in your corner to talk to as well, and don’t be afraid to break down, cry, or talk to them. Give yourself as a mother some credit. You just brought life into this world which is an incredible feat!

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I hope my new moms and readers out there get a chance to read this today, tomorrow, months, or years from now.  On some level, this very conversation took me right back to not only those 4th trimester days.  However, it’s important to point out that PPD or post partum anxiety can manifest at any time during the first year.  So although you may feel eager to be “super mom,” remember that taking care of yourself is also a huge part of being the best mom possible.


A Pediatrician Mommy Advocate

*Bernadette Hubbs is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and founder of Nurturing Women in Freehold, NJ specialized in Postpartum Anxiety & Depression along with Women’s wellness.  

Contact 732.829.8891 for a free consultation.

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