Pregnancy and Postpartum Mental Health: Safety in the Storm

By Wendy Davis, PhD

 

The proper support of new mothers, babies, and their families requires a whole chain of care that goes from the earliest prenatal care all the way through the first early years of a child’s life. We are all links in that chain — families, providers, and communities:  we work best when we are collaborating, working together, creating nurturing environments for infants and their families.  The most important message about mental health and self-care for new parents is that it is a natural need to receive support during pregnancy and postpartum, and that includes emotional as well as physical and practical support.

How can families help when a mom has postpartum depression or anxiety? How do we learn about signs and symptoms in a way that feels empowering and not shaming? Sometimes it seems that our heaviest burden is our own self-criticism and judgment, our own expectations that a “good mom” would never feel any emotional distress.  Women who are depressed or anxious during or after pregnancy tell us that friends, family, and perfect strangers directly influence how they feel, whether they reach out, and even how they communicate with their partners. How a family responds to a new mother’s emotional and mental health can affect her through pregnancy, pregnancy loss, postpartum, and her developing self-image as a mother.

Here’s a good illustration.

I am standing in line at the grocery store and overhear a conversation between the two women in front of me. One is there with two children – a baby in the cart and an older child who calls her grandma. She is taking care of the little ones and talking to the silver-haired woman behind her, comparing notes about grandchildren. I hear the woman with the children mention that she’s helping because her daughter-in-law has “Postpartum Depression.” They pause and look at the kids. I wait…I wait for the inevitable: the rolling of the eyes, the talk about how women these days just want the easy way out, how everyone and her sister seems to have “Postpartum Depression.”  I ready myself, getting ready to tell them that it is real, it is rough, and that we are lucky to have real resources, volunteers who can help her connect, find resources, not feel alone. I want them to understand, to know that they should not judge. I want to tell them that it actually is almost true that “everyone and her sister” has it, and that we need to listen to them, not judge, and help them. I’m ready. I take a breath.

They surprise me.

The woman in front of me shakes her head. “Oh, I only wish we had help back in my day. I wish… She’s a lucky girl, your daughter-in-law. If I had been able to ask for help and have someone take the kids to the store….You know, she’s lucky to have you.” They smile at each other, and look down at the children. I feel like crying, with relief. If the grandmothers at the store understand, then we might just have a chance.

Times have changed, and they will continue to change. Although another day could have brought an insensitive conversation about depressed new moms, this day in this store reminded me that our families and communities are beginning to understand. New moms do get depressed and they get anxious. Pregnant women have as much chance of becoming depressed or anxious as their postpartum moms, and teenage moms have a greater chance than any. Even adoptive moms and dads can become depressed and anxious after a new baby arrives. We have been ignoring it and as a result families have suffered. Fortunately, communities around the world (and the internet)  are working together to create a safety net that includes raising awareness, connecting families with resources, educating providers, and forging partnerships to help families.

The earliest references to depression, fears, or psychosis around childbearing were recorded in the 4th century BCE!  In modern times, we stopped talking about them. Acknowledgement of despair seems to have been replaced by pretty media pictures of mommies and babies and shallow reassurances by families and doctors who tell mom to get a haircut, buy a new dress, or wean the baby. Traditional rituals to support new mothers and fathers were replaced by baby-shower games, and built-in help for new parents gave way to expectations that one parent will go to work and the other stay home to keep up with housework, her appearance, and the bliss of new motherhood. In this modern world, where is the language to describe mornings filled with anxious fears, dinner that remains uncooked,  and nights disrupted by mommy crying as much as the baby?

Organizations like Postpartum Support International believe that we can prevent a crisis if new parents receive reliable information, resources, and adequate support before the baby arrives. If families learn that symptoms of emotional and mental distress during pregnancy and postpartum are common, treatable, and temporary, then they will not be consumed by fear or shame if it occurs. They might find ways to rest more, reach out sooner, and engage with informed providers and support services to prevent their distress and facilitate their recovery. Most importantly, by finding resources, they can make contact with real mothers, fathers, and grandparents who have gone through their own difficulties around childbearing, and they will learn that they are not alone and not to blame. Women should know that they can contact support organizations like PSI for support around any stress, adjustment, or distress related to childbearing; they don’t need a diagnosis and they won’t be pushed into any particular treatment.

Although we most often hear about “Postpartum Depression” when we talk about mental health around childbearing, there are in fact several ways that emotional distress commonly arises – not only depression, but anxiety, bipolar cycles, grief, trauma, and psychosis. The most recent research shows that more than 1 out of 8 pregnant and postpartum women develop significant depression or anxiety, and up to 1 out of 10 fathers also have depression after a new baby arrives.  Postpartum Psychosis, the most serious postpartum psychological disorder, occurs in 1 to 2 per 1000 births.

This means that one in eight women has enough disruption in her moods, sleep, appetite, confidence, and ability to function that she could be diagnosed with a clinical mood disorder. You can’t tell who it is by looking: moms will smile on the outside while they are feeling lost, scared, and emotionally numb. Our cultural taboo against maternal depression has thwarted us from talking compassionately about our emotional lives as mothers.

There are identifiable risk factors such as a history of PMS, depression, anxiety, or bipolar mood disorders, recent loss, or life stressors. Symptoms might include feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, anxious, or detached, and in some cases the difficult anxiety symptom of repetitive, intrusive thoughts that include unwanted images of harm to their babies. If the family and their caregivers do not have reliable information to help them distinguish between anxieties that are not dangerous and delusional thinking that is, anxious mothers live in fear and their symptoms increase.

If a mom is fortunate, people around her will remind her that she is worthy of care, treatment, and help. If she has emotional difficulties, they will tell her that these are symptoms of distress, not a sign of her inadequacy. Having negative feelings about becoming a mother is a symptom of depression; it is not a cause. We can be open to the truth about the difficult adjustment of becoming a parent. Can we accept that depression, fear, anger, and loss might exist side by side with love and attentive parenting? If we can become a culture of truth-tellers and fair listeners, we will make our families stronger and healthier, and change the environment into which children and their parents emerge.

So, let’s hear it for the grandmothers in line at the store. Thank you for listening, providing safety in the storm, telling the truth.

 Contact Postpartum Support International for support, information, resources, and volunteer opportunities at www.postpartum.net or 1-800-944-4PPD  (1-800-944-4773).

 

Wendy Davis, PhD, provides counseling, training, and consultation for mental health related to pregnancy, birth, loss, postpartum recovery. She was the founding director of Oregon’s Baby Blues Connection and is the Executive Director of Postpartum Support International.

 

How to Screen Yourself for Postpartum Depression

May is Mental Health Month. As childbirth education advocates, Lamaze believes that mental health during and after pregnancy is critical to the health and safety of moms and their babies. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, psychosis, or any other mental health issues, contact your care provider and seek support and resources from Postpartum Progress and Postpartum Support International. You don’t have to suffer alone — and you don’t have to suffer. There is support and treatment available for mental health disorders. Also know that you are not alone — it has been found that 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, though that rate is thought to be higher for all postpartum disorders.

So how do you know if you are experiencing a postpartum disorder? Many moms downplay or dismiss their feelings, chalking them up to “hormones,” but it’s important to take notice and check in with yourself. A postpartum disorder is more than just a “bad day,” and even if you feel as though you are coping, a postpartum disorder ultimately affects your quality of life. If you feel as though something is “off” or if your partner expresses concern about your state of well-being, you can take a free, quick, confidential, online screening quiz to determine whether you may be suffering from postpartum depression.

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EDPS) was developed in 1987 to help doctors determine whether a mother may be suffering from postpartum depression. The scale has since been validated, and evidence from a number of research studies has confirmed the tool to be both reliable and sensitive in detecting depression. The EPDS Score is designed to assist — not replace — clinical judgment. If you feel you may be at risk or suffering from post natal depression, please share the results with your care provider.

Book Review: Nobody Told Me…My Battle with Postpartum Depression and OCD by Wendy Isnardi

When Wendy Isnardi published her book, I had to read it. I love reading books in this genre: books written by real women in the perinatal mental health advocacy community. I love the real life stories about women putting themselves out there kicking the perinatal mental illness stigma! (You can read my review of  Ivy Shih Leung’s book here and Walker Karraa’s interview with Ivy here.)

Wendy’s story is unique in this genre as she suffered from both postpartum depression and postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Her story is especially relevant as she shows us the birth world and the maternal mental health world are truly related. The first woman-to-woman contact in her community who had the appropriate resources for her situation was her Lamaze instructor.  Her story illustrates how childbirth educators might very well be the first contact with the right referrals for perinatal mood disorders. It was fortunate her Lamaze instructor had the appropriate contacts for Wendy when she needed them.

Today, Wendy still successfully manages OCD.  OCD can be difficult to treat as it requires a great deal of strength, diligence and commitment to successfully manage. It’s tough and you gotta be tough to beat it.

Her storytelling is the in-your-face, no-holds-barred style of her native Brooklyn and her current residence, Long Island (where I was born and raised, so I can relate!).  She calls her absent, estranged biological father “the sperm donor” and her ever-present, ever-strong mother her “hero, ” and her step-father her “true father.”  She lived through several moves until she credits her mother and her real father with giving her the gift of a stable home life.

Wendy lived through stressful years of a dating and marriage to a person who abused substances and cleared out their back accounts.  She tells of her painful feelings of failure as she divorced and then filed for bankruptcy.

Wendy then met her true love, Joey, her husband. She tells us that all her life, she was labeled a “worrier.”  But, no one really identified her peculiarities, such as a need to line up lipsticks by the correct color, and her need to collect lots of types of things, like makeup brushes, as symptomatic of OCD.  In general, her life and the OCD symptoms she manifested were manageable before childbirth.

But Wendy’s OCD worsened when she became pregnant with her first daughter, Madison. It is well known that a woman with a history of mental illness (diagnosed or undiagnosed) is at risk for a perinatal mental illness.

Emotionally, she says she was a “bundle of nerves.” She tells us she obsessively searched the web for pregnancy information and obsessed about all the health messages. The messages were everywhere! Don’t eat tuna, don’t eat cold cuts, don’t wear high heels, don’t stand in front of a microwave, don’t eat maraschino cherries, the baby will get brain damage, etc. And, as Wendy says, everyone has an (unsolicited) opinion for a pregnant woman!

Wendy experienced a tough pregnancy physically, too.  She  suffered from excruciating constipation during pregnancy.

And Wendy’s birth experience was traumatic. She had a very frightening emergency cesarean section. Wendy actually saw her own “insides” all pulled out of her in a mirror during the surgery.   Her husband told her he was afraid he was going to lose her.

Then, we segue to her being at home with her baby daughter, Madison. And the worsening of the terrible unrelenting anxiety and depression so debilitating that she became unable to care for her baby. She was afraid to be alone. Her obsessive fears and scary thoughts took over her life. She had  paralyzing obsessive thoughts about bacteria in the baby bottles, about medication accidentally being dumped into the baby bottles. She quickly became afraid to be left alone with her baby. Her  emotional state impacted the whole family; her husband and mother had to take shifts, so she wouldn’t be alone.

What makes Wendy’s story so unique and riveting is her willingness to describe in excruciating detail her unrelenting “scary thoughts;” the debilitating thoughts that women with postpartum anxiety and OCD experience.

She now knows, and shares with us, that those scary thoughts were just thoughts, and were not precursors to harmful action. She says she knows she would never actually have harmed her baby, but the thoughts she was having terrified her. She couldn’t stop them and they were dark thoughts. She didn’t understand what they were all about. Her distress and fear were real.

During all of this, Wendy is feeling depressed and lost. But, by a happy coincidence, she meets her Lamaze instructor at a craft fair.  Her Lamaze instructor recognizes she needs help and gives her a referral to a professional licensed therapist. Wendy calls her immediately and starts to see her that week. She begins therapy, and gets set up with a psychiatrist who prescribes medication.

But Wendy still had a long and scary road.  Her healing process began, but it was a long fight, not for the faint of heart.

Wendy found professional help and then she also found peer support at the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, which is a non-profit agency dedicated to helping women and their families survive their ordeals with depression during pregnancy and depression following the birth of their children. She began to immediately get involved at the center, volunteering there, along with her husband and her mother.

Wendy shares with us that her scary thoughts and obsessions included bloody thoughts and fears about her husband’s gun (even thought Joey is a police officer who knows gun safety and appropriately locks it up). Other obsessive thoughts were frightening bloody thoughts about escalators and her all-consuming bloody terrors of the shark tanks when she visited the Seaquarium.

It is important to note here that her scary thoughts were just that — terrifying thoughts — not precursors to action, not full-blown delusions. She never lost touch with reality and right and wrong.  Wendy had frightening thoughts but she knew she would not hurt her baby.

Wendy’s story is riveting as she sought help and  never stopped fighting. She was able to fight through to a successful healing process. She moved on to help others, have another child and a fulfilled, successful life.

Come back next week to read my interview with author Wendy Isnardi.

Kathy Morelli, LPC, has a professional marriage and family counseling practice with a focus on pregnancy, birth, postpartum and trauma in Wayne, NJ. Kathy also offers phone consultations and web-based courses. She has a long-term interest in mindbody therapies and is trained in shiatsu, acupressure and Reiki. She writes and speaks on birth comfort measures and perinatal mental health and has appeared at various universities and conferences across the country. She writes on perinatal mental health for Lamaze’s Science & Sensibility, is a board member of Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth (PATTCh) and is one of Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) Virtual Volunteers. Visit her at birthtouch.com and kathymorelli.com

 

Pregnancy, Birth & Postpartum Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions may take on more meaning if you’re preparing for the birth of a child in 2013. This year, perhaps for the first time, “join the gym and lose 10 pounds” isn’t on the list. At the same time, many of the resolutions you make for a healthy pregnancy look a lot like those you would make for a healthy lifestyle, pregnant or not. For example:

  • eat fruit and vegetables daily
  • get 8 hours of sleep
  • exercise 30 minutes a day
  • carve out time for yourself
  • ask for help when you need it

For a healthy pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period, we’ve compiled a few significant resolutions for you to consider adding to your list this year.

 

Pregnancy

Listen to your body. If it’s telling you to slow down, do all that you can to make it happen. Cereal for dinner? Why not. Nap at 6 p.m.? Yep. On the other hand, if you’re feeling great, don’t let pregnancy slow you down — continue your exercise regimen, meet up with friends for dinner, enjoy life!

Learn about evidence-based maternity care. You can’t always count on your care provider to give you the best, most up-t0-date care. How will you know if you’re not receiving the best care? Learn how to navigate the maternity care system and how you can get the best care.

 

Labor & Birth

Plan for the best support. Who will attend your birth? Do they support your wishes? Will they provide positive energy? Think carefully about your birth support team. Look into hiring a doula. Share your birth plan with everyone well before labor begins.

Take labor one step at a time. Humans seem to be hardwired to think about what’s going to happen next. With labor, it helps to only think about what’s happening now. If you can take each contraction, each stage, each moment as it’s happening, you’ll be better able to put complete focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about what’s to come.

 

Postpartum

Speak up. It’s wonderful to have friends and family ooo and ahh at your new little joy. But a house full of visitors can be overwhelming during a time when you’re trying to understand a brand new world. Feel free to ask for some time and space alone with your baby. Post visiting hours on your front door or update your Facebook status to let friends know when you’re accepting visitors.

Know the signs of postpartum depression/disorders. Postpartum mood disorders (anxiety, depression, OCD, psychosis) affect hundreds of thousands of women every year. With knowledge of the warning signs and access to resources, women who suffer from postpartum mood disorders can and do recover.

Maternal Mental Health: Pre-Existing Risk Factors for PTSD and Childbirth

In light of the horrific and tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, Giving Birth with Confidence will be dedicating our posts this week to providing resources relating to mental health and wellness. Approximately 1.3 million women annually suffer from mental health disorders that occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Perinatal and postpartum anxiety and mood disorders far outweigh the annual occurrence of several other major diseases combined. The key to finding help and treating mental health disorders is awareness; the more people who know how to spot warning signs and what to do to find help, the greater our possibility for better health.

 

 

This article is part of the Traumatic Birth Prevention & Resource Guide by PATTCh. Access the complete guide to learn more about traumatic birth and find resources for women and families.

By Heidi Koss, MA, LMHC

Health care providers aren’t exactly sure why some people get post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when exposed to a traumatic event while others do not. Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop when you go through, see or learn about an event that causes intense fear, helplessness or horror. Any trauma, including birth trauma, lies in the eye of the beholder. What one may perceive as traumatic might not be traumatic to others.

As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of:

  • Your inherited mental health risks, such as an increased risk of anxiety and depression
  • Your life experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through since early childhood. PTSD can result from a cumulative effect of multiple traumas over a lifetime.
  • The inherited aspects of your personality — often called your temperament
  • The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress

General Risk factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
People of all ages can have post-traumatic stress disorder. However, some factors increase risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event, including:

  • Being female — women may be at increased risk of PTSD because they are more likely to experience the kinds of trauma that can trigger the condition.
  • Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma
  • Having experienced other trauma earlier in life
  • Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
  • Lacking a good support system of family and friends
  • Having first-degree relatives with mental health problems, including PTSD and depression
  • History of abuse (such as childhood abuse, sexual abuse, rape)
  • Combat exposure
  • Physical attack
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • Car accident, plane or train crash
  • Life threatening experience (such as natural disaster, critical injury, medical crisis, attack, mugging)

These symptoms should alert you to possible PTSD:

  • Flashbacks of the event — vivid and sudden memories
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Fears of recurrence
  • Emotional numbing
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to recall important aspects of the event — psychogenic amnesia
  • Exaggerated startle response, hyper-arousal, always on guard
  • Hyper-vigilance, constantly looking around for trouble or stressors
  • Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event
  • Intense psychological stress at exposure to events that resemble the traumatic event

How is PTSD different than other Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood Disorders?
Sometimes perinatal mood disorders overlap and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. PTSD is caused by an event in which you feel threatened, violated, and feel as if you could die. By the way our brain has processed the memory of the event, is causes heightened anxiety, hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, etc. Therefore PTSD is an anxiety or stress reaction and it is different from other postpartum mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, other postpartum mood disorders can occur at the same time PTSD.

Resources
Recommended Books:

  • Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders, A Clinician’s Guide, by Cheryl Tatano Beck and Jeanne Watson Driscoll
  • Beyond the Birth, A Family’s Guide to Postpartum Mood Disorders, by Juliana Nason, Patricia Spach and Anna Gruen. Published by Postpartum Support International of WA
  • When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women, by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus

Useful Organizations & Websites:

Heidi Koss, MA, LMHCA is a psychotherapist in private practice in Redmond, WA specializing in pregnancy and postpartum mood disorders (PPMD), birth trauma, and parent adjustment issues. She has been the Executive Director of Postpartum Support International of Washington (PSI of WA), WA State Coordinator for Postpartum Support International as well as co-founder of the Northwest Association for Postpartum Support (NAPS). She offers consultant services and PPMD trainings. Heidi has also been a postpartum doula and certified lactation educator. Heidi is the proud mother of two beautiful daughters.

 

 

 

PATTCh is a not-for-profit, multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth. Our mission is to develop cross-disciplinary relationships, research, and programs that:

  • prevent PTSD following childbirth through education, interdisciplinary collaboration, and multidisciplinary research;
  • educate perinatal care providers and paraprofessionals in the prevention and treatment of birth and reproduction related trauma;
  • encourage the development of culturally appropriate therapeutic approaches to post-traumatic stress symptoms following childbirth;
  • promote healthy birth practices for all women and families;
  • promote evidence-based research regarding PTSD secondary to childbirth;
  • increase global awareness of the prevalence, risk factors, and effects of PTSD secondary to childbirth; and
  • support collaboration and understanding among all stake-holders, including: researchers, policy makers, medical and mental health care providers, educators, community members, volunteers, women, and families.

 

Maternal Mental Health: Daily Support Service for Mothers Who Suffer from Postpartum Disorders

In light of the horrific and tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, Giving Birth with Confidence will be dedicating our posts this week to providing resources relating to mental health and wellness. Approximately 1.3 million women annually suffer from mental health disorders that occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Perinatal and postpartum anxiety and mood disorders far outweigh the annual occurrence of several other major diseases combined. The key to finding help and treating mental health disorders is awareness; the more people who know how to spot warning signs and what to do to find help, the greater our possibility for better health.

Postpartum Progress (www.postpartumprogress.com), the most widely-read blog in the United States on postpartum depression, hosts a service to help pregnant and new mothers get through the difficulty of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Daily Hope is the nation’s first support service featuring once-daily e-mails to mothers with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD and antenatal depression or anxiety. This free service provides encouragement from survivors, the country’s top perinatal mental health specialists and authors of the leading books on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and parenting.

Many of the nearly one million women who suffer each year do not have access to perinatal mental health specialists or PPD support groups where they live. “I hear from thousands of mothers across the country and around the world who say that having someone to lean on who deeply understands can contribute a great deal to their recovery process,” said Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress and survivor of postpartum OCD. “I felt Daily Hope would be a great way to use technology to offer mothers encouragement from the nation’s most trusted experts on their illnesses, regardless of where they live or what type of health insurance they have. The more support we can provide to women with postpartum depression, the better, because the quicker the recovery, the less likely the illness will have a long-term impact on mom and baby.”

Contributors to Daily Hope include, among many:

  • Karen Kleiman, MSW, author of “This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression”
  • Ann Dunnewold, PhD, author of “Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide” and “Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box”
  • Marlene Freeman, MD, MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health and Harvard University
  • Pamela Weigartz, author of “The Pregnancy & Postpartum Anxiety Workbook”
  • Susan Stone, LCSW, former president of Postpartum Support International
  • Janice Croze, co-founder of 5MinutesforMom.com and survivor of PPD
  • “Aunt Becky,” author of the blog Mommy Wants Vodka, founder of Band Back Together and survivor of antenatal depression
  • Adrienne Griffen, founder of Postpartum Support Virginia

To sign up (for free) and subscribe to Daily Hope, click here.

Postpartum Progress, founded in 2004, provides the most comprehensive, in-depth and accessible information available on perinatal mental illness for pregnant women and new mothers. Having already helped more than 350,000 women and healthcare providers, Postpartum Progress offers an unflinching look at getting through postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis, and antenatal depression & anxiety. Postpartum Progress has been named one of the top 10 depression blogs on the web by Psych Central, the winner of Fit Pregnancy’s Best of the Web Awards in the Advice category, and was a runner-up in Parenting’s Must-Read Moms and Scholastic Parent & Child’s Best Parenting Blogs Awards. It has been featured on Babble, ParentDish, Café Mom, Health.com and many other parenting websites. Postpartum Progress was founded by Katherine Stone, who was named a WebMD Health Hero in 2008 and won the Bloganthropy Award in 2010 for her advocacy work for pregnant and new mothers with maternal mental illness.

Postpartum Progress the blog and Daily Hope are both offered by Postpartum Progress Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to vastly improving the amount of services and support available to women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Maternal Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders in Pregnancy

In light of the horrific and tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, Giving Birth with Confidence will be dedicating our posts this week to providing resources relating to mental health and wellness. Approximately 1.3 million women annually suffer from mental health disorders that occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Perinatal and postpartum anxiety and mood disorders far outweigh the annual occurrence of several other major diseases combined. The key to finding help and treating mental health disorders is awareness; the more people who know how to spot warning signs and what to do to find help, the greater our possibility for better health.

 

This World is Not Flat: Anxiety Disorders in Pregnancy

Imagine you are sitting in your care provider’s office, and next to the scary “universal pain chart” with the not-so-happy faces getting progressively more distressed and discolored, is this chart:

1 in 8 pregnant women will develop an illness that poses these risks:

  • preterm birth (the leading cause of infant mortality and disability in US)1,2,3
  • low birth weight4
  • low APGAR scores5
  • a more difficult labor and delivery with increase of PTSD symptoms related to birth6,7,8,9
  • increased chance of Postpartum Depression/Anxiety Disorders after birth10,11
  • newborn may have increased agitation12,13
  • jittery infants up to 6 months after delivery14
  • breastfeeding difficulties15
  • child may develop learning and attention disorders later in childhood16,17,18

Genetic Disorder? Pre-ecamplsia? STD?

Nope. Perinatal Anxiety Disorder.

Current estimates are that anywhere from 5% to nearly 25% of pregnant women (1 in 8 ) will have a mood or anxiety disorder.19,20,21 And for pregnant women with anxiety disorders, high levels of cortisol cross the placenta and have long-term effects noted long after birth.22

With my first pregnancy, I began developing symptoms of depression and anxiety shortly after my second trimester. I knew something was wrong, and had both physical and emotional symptoms that were getting progressively worse. At the time (10 years ago), my providers didn’t know to ask about depression and anxiety during pregnancy—and I did a darned good job covering it up. My illness went untreated, and I ended up suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in labor and developing severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth. I was three months postpartum before my illness got severe enough, and life threatening, to the point where any of us knew I needed immediate medical treatment.

Anxiety in pregnancy and birth is universal and normal. It is a normal reaction to a physically and emotionally stressful, life-altering event. Secondly, an anxiety disorder in pregnancy is a medical illness, not a character flaw or personality trait. Its etiology is currently traced to an interplay of hormonal, genetic, environmental and immunological systems of the body23,24 – not the half shot of espresso in your latte, your character, or your inability to relax in your [irritating] prenatal yoga class. Newer research is looking at the role of increased oxytocin around the time of birth in influencing the onset of Perinatal Anxiety Disorders (PAD).25 Bottom line: It is not your fault.

 

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety in pregnancy is normal. But when anxiety in pregnancy is significant enough to cause physical, emotional, and cognitive distress — a perinatal anxiety disorder may be occurring and you need help.26

Pec Indman, EdD, MFT and co-author of the award winning book, Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Mood/Anxiety Disorders offered this in a recent interview for this post:

While it’s normal to have some worries during pregnancy (for example, “Will my baby be healthy? or, “ Will I be a good mom”?)–women with anxiety find the worry gets in the way of enjoying the pregnancy and other aspects of life. Women with anxiety may also have appetite changes (often difficulty eating), and find that the worry makes it difficult to fall asleep. Some women experience panic episodes during pregnancy. These are times of extreme anxiety where there may be hot or cold feelings, difficulty breathing or a smothering sensation, numbness or tingling in the fingers or around the mouth, a racing heart, and a feeling of loss of control.

There are several types of anxiety disorders that occur in pregnancy and postpartum, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and PTSD. You can learn more about each type at www.postpartum.net under “Get the Facts.” But generally, symptoms27 of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Excessive, ongoing worry that impacts your day to day activities
  • Thoughts of worry regarding the future, or catastrophic events occurring
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite
  • Physical restlessness, inability to sit still
  • Dizziness, hot flashes, nausea
  • Panic attacks

 

Risk Factors
Research shows that there are some risk factors that may predispose some of us to anxiety disorders in pregnancy, and can be discussed with your care provider, partner, family or trained professional. Risk factors28,29 include:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Personal history of depression or anxiety
  • Thyroid imbalance

 

What do you do if you have symptoms or risk factors for an anxiety disorder in pregnancy?

1. Get help. Talk to a care provider. If you can’t talk yourself, find someone you trust to do so with you. The risks are too great. Pec Indman, EdD, MFT, shares:
If a woman is struggling during pregnancy it is essential to get help. Talk to a trained (many providers have not been trained in this area) and understanding professional. There are lots of kinds of effective treatments including counseling (in particular Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy), social support, exercise, Omega-3 fatty acids, acupuncture, and medication.

Regarding women currently on medication, Pec continues:
Women who are on medication for depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, should consult with a prenatal (or perinatal) mental health expert before stopping medication. We know that over 50% of women who stop their medication before, or when they are find out they are pregnant, become ill again. Many medications can be taken during pregnancy and will help prevent a relapse.30

2. Ask your care providers (OB/GYN, Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, Family Practitioner) if they are trained in depression and anxiety in pregnancy. One tip I give women is to phrase it this way: “If I develop depression or anxiety during pregnancy or after, how will you be able to help me?” or “How do you help women who develop anxiety or depression in pregnancy?” If it is too difficult to do that, ask a trusted friend, partner, or family member to go with you to your next appointment and help you approach your care provider. Write a list of questions and concerns before you go. Calling ahead to let the front office know you need extra time in your appointment is also a good idea.

What if? If your only option is a care provider who is not trained in this area, go to Postpartum Support International (PSI) for excellent resources to take with you to your appointment, or to find local support systems, or call the warm-line for volunteer support on getting help in your area (1-800-944-4773). If making that call or going online is anxiety producing, ask a trusted friend, partner, or family member to go online for you or with you, to PSI and get the information you need.

3. GET A TRAINED DOULA!!! Birth and postpartum doulas can help you get through birth and postpartum adjustment. I strongly suggest you hire a doula who has training in this area (birth doulas are not required to know this information and postpartum doulas often receive little and/or outdated training on anxiety and depression disorders in pregnancy). Some good questions when interviewing doulas are:

  • What training do you have in anxiety and depression disorders in pregnancy?
  • If I get depressed or anxious, how will you know and how will you help?
  • What local resources do you give to clients?
  • How do you feel about anti-depressant medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding? Any doula who is completely “anti-medication” for any medical illness needs to turn in their birth ball and get with the program (it’s a blog, I can say things like that!). They do not have the skills to help you. Go to PSI and ask therapists in your area for referrals to doulas with experience.

 

Nothing Flat About this World of Anxiety Disorders
Pec Indman notes, “Healthcare professionals used to think pregnant women didn’t experience depression or anxiety. We also used to think the world was flat! Thinking has changed about a lot of things.”

Just as thinking and care regarding birth has changed, health care providers are starting to get it regarding mood and anxiety disorders in pregnancy. But much like our births, women have to raise our voices to raise awareness, and in turn get the care we so desperately deserve and need, for our brains and our reproductive systems.

With my second pregnancy, I knew before I peed on the stick — based on my first pregnancy — I had significant risks for depression and anxiety, that it was a physical illness, and that the risks to me and my baby were real and needed to be avoided. I was extremely fortunate to have the financial access to good, trained providers — they are forever in my heart. And I went through a mine field of providers who didn’t know current research and made me feel like a bad mother until I found the ones who “got it.” I firmly believe that when given the right information regarding our bodies, and particularly our pregnant bodies, we do a damn good job to learn more, discuss with those who could help us with treatment, and make the best informed choices for our lives. Once we remind ourselves and our care providers that our brain and uterus inhabit the same body and need the same kind of care, we will be part of the move to see that the world is not flat.
.

A special thanks to Pec Indman, EdD, MFT for her contribution to this article, humor, and support.

Pec Indman EdD, MFT, is a mom with over 20 years experience as a perinatal mental health psychotherapist and educator. She is the chair of education and training for Postpartum Support International, and co-author of the award-winning book, Beyond the Blues. An updated edition will be available the end of Oct. 2010. Beyond the Blues, Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.

 

References

 

  1. Perkin, M.R., Bland J.M. et al. 1993. The effect of anxiety and depression during pregnancy on obstetrical complications. BrJournal of Obstet Gynaecol 100:629-34.
  2. Wadwa, P.D., Sandman, C.A. et al. 1993. The association between prenatal stress and infant birth weight and gestational age at birth: a prospective investigation. Am J Obstet Gynecol 169:858-64.
  3. Orr, S. T., J. P. Reiter, D. G. Blazer, and S. A. James. 2007. Maternal prenatal pregnancy-related anxiety and spontaneous preterm birth in Baltimore, Maryland. Psychosomatic Medicine 69 (6):566-70.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Beck, C. T., 2004a. Birth trauma: In the eye of the beholder. Nursing Research 53, 28-35.
  7. Beck, C. T., 2004b. Post-traumatic stress disorder due to childbirth: The aftermath. Nursing Research 53, 216-224.
  8. Keogh, E., S. Ayers, and H. Francis. 2002. Does anxiety sensitivity predict post-traumatic stress symptoms following childbirth? A preliminary report. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 31 (4): 145-55.
  9. Kelly, R. H., J. Russo, and W. Katon. 2001. Somatic complaints among pregnant women cared for in obstetrics: Normal pregnancy or depressive and anxiety symptoms amplification revisited? General Hospital Psychiatry 23 (3):107-113.
  10. Lee A.M., Lam S.K. et al. 2007. Prevalence, course and risk factors for antenatal anxiety and depression. Obstet Gynecol 110:1102-1112.
  11. Rambelli, C., Montagnani, M.S. et al. 2010. Panic disorder as a risk factor for post-partum depression: results from the perinatal depression-research and screening unit study. Journal of Affect Disord,122(1-2):139-143.
  12. Coplan, R. J., K. O”Neil, and K. A. Arbeau. 2005. Maternal anxiety during and after pregnancy and infant temperament at three months of age. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health 19 (3):199-215.
  13. Tagle, N., Neal, C., Glover, V. 2007. Antenatal maternal stress and long term effects on child neurodevelopment: How and why? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 245-261.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Britton, J.R. 2007. Postpartum anxiety and breastfeeding. Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 52:689-695.
  16. Weinberg, M. Tronic, E.Z. 1998. The impact of maternal illness on infant development. J Clinc. Psychiatry 59(suppl 2):53-61
  17. O’Connor, T. G., J. Heron, and V. Glover. 2002. Antenatal anxiety predicts child behavioral/emotional problems independently of postnatal depression. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 41 (12): 1470-77.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Onunaku, N. 2005. Improving maternal and infant mental health: Focus on maternal depression. National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy at UCLA.
  20. Knitzer, J., Theberge, S., Johnson, K. 2008. Reducing maternal depression and its impact on young children: Toward a responsive early childhood policy framework. National Center for Children in Poverty, Project Five Issue Brief 2.
  21. Gaynes B., Gavin, N., Melter-Brody, S., Lhor, K., Swinson, T., Gartlehner, G., et al. 2005. Perinatal depression prevalence, screening accuracy, and screening outcomes: Summary, evidence report and technology assessment, No 119. AHRQ Publication No. 05-E006-1.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Altemus, M. 2001. Obsessive-compulsive disorder during pregnancy and postpartum. In: Yonkers, K., Little., B. (eds) Management of psychiatric disorder in pregnancy. Oxford University Press, NY, pp 149-163.
  24. Stein, D.J., Hollander, E., Simeon, D., et al. 1993. Pregnancy and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Am J Psychiatry 150:1131-1132.
  25. Bartz, J.A., Hollander, E. 2008. Oxytocin and experimental therapeutics in autism spectrum disorders. Progressive Brain Research, 170:451-462.
  26. American Psychiatric Association. 2000. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed, text revision). Author, Washington, DC.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Lee A.M., Lam S.K. et al. 2007. Prevalence, course and risk factors for antenatal anxiety and depression. Obstet Gynecol 110:1102-1112.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Cohen, L.S., Altshuler, L.L. 2006. Relapse of major depression during pregnancy in women who maintain or discontinue antidepressant treatment. JAMA, 295:499-507

A Voice of Strength I Didn’t Know I Possessed: Part II of An Interview with Ivy Shih Leung

A Voice of Strength I Didn’t Know I Possessed: An Interview with Ivy Shih Leung, author of “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood: Infertility, Childbirth Complications, and Postpartum Depression, Oh My!”

 

In this second part of my interview with Ivy, she shares insight into her Chinese culture and pregnancy and postpartum. Secondly, she delves into her experience with infertility and complications during pregnancy. Finally, Ivy shares wonderful thoughts as to how writing, blogging, and communication can help to end stigma about PPD and create the causes for healing. You can read the first part of our interview here.

 

How has culture affected your writing about your experience?

I don’t feel that my culture really affected my writing about my PPD experience.  Though, I have to say that I am one of the few Asian bloggers I’m aware of.  Unlike most of my Asian friends and acquaintances, I am very outspoken and opinionated.  The Chinese tend to keep their emotions bottled up and thoughts and experiences to themselves.  In general, they are a very proud people.  Everything is pretty much about “saving face,” which means not putting oneself out there when it comes to personal experiences, especially if there is anything in the least bit negative.  As we know from the Western culture, pregnancy and motherhood are supposed to be blissful experiences.  I, on the other hand, have a book that shares ALL my thoughts and experiences while suffering from PPD.  It’s a fairly big deal for any woman to share her PPD story, let alone publish a book about it.  It’s an even bigger deal for a Chinese woman to do either.  

 

What would you like mainstream culture to know about your culture regarding pregnancy and postpartum?

Although I am Chinese and even speak Mandarin fluently, I was born and raised here in the U.S.  As a result, I am very Westernized and do not observe many of the traditions my parents and the generations before them may have observed.  Actually, my mother gave birth here and was not privy to the custom of Zou Yue.  She gave birth in a foreign country with no loved ones around her.  She received less help with taking care of me when I was a newborn than I had when I had my own daughter.  At least when I had my daughter, my husband helped, and my mother and mother-in-law each stayed a week to help. 

Zou Yue is like some of the other mother-nurturing customs observed by other cultures (la cuarentena in Mexico, sarantisma in Greece, Jaappa in India) in terms of observing a 30 or 40 day period of taking care of the mother, so she can take care of her baby and get adequate sleep to recover from childbirth.  Forty seems to be a magical number, a number that has survived through the centuries and therefore has special significance….no doubt it has something to do with the fact that 40 days is the average length of time for a new mother’s body to recover from childbirth and return to a pre-pregnant state.  It’s also why an OB/GYN will tell the new mother, once she’s given birth, that he will see her in 6 weeks.  Each of these traditions involves female family members and friends of the new mother providing her and her baby with care, so that the new mother’s only focus is on getting rest and bonding with/feeding her baby.  They also help around the house and prepare meals.  Certain rituals are observed in which food is prepared a certain way to help keep her body/system warm. She is protected from feeling overwhelmed; hence, visitors are kept away (or kept at a very minimum) during this time. She is told to avoid bathing for fear of catching cold.  All these rituals have the mother’s well-being in mind.  In terms of breastfeeding, female family members are on hand to teach her how to do it. In these other cultures, there is no expectation that the new mother know how to breastfeed instinctively and easily.  There is a reason behind the phrase “it takes a village.”

I have blogged about the importance of social support and how, through the years, we seem to have lost perspective on things when it comes to the community coming together to help a new mother who has just had a baby.   Getting adequate social support—comprised of both emotional support (e.g., shoulder to cry on, listening non-judgmentally) and practical support (e.g., help with breastfeeding, cleaning, errands, laundry, taking care of the baby for a few hours so mom can take a nap or shower) is critical for new moms. Having enough support during the first 4-6 weeks—until a new mom’s body recovers from childbirth and her hormone levels return to their pre-pregnancy state—can help keep anxiety levels down, help her get the rest she needs from all the changes her body has gone through with childbirth.

 

When you were pregnant, how was your culture addressed by care providers in ways that were helpful? And what about during your recovery from PPD?

I don’t remember if my OB/GYN and hospital staff asked me any questions, either orally or via a written questionnaire, as to whether I had any cultural preferences that needed to be taken into consideration during or after childbirth.  There definitely was no attempt on the part of my OB/GYN to ask me if I had any preferences for the duration of my pregnancy.  Fortunately, I didn’t have any preferences, anyway.  I just wanted to be treated with respect and care, both of which my doctor ended up failing at. Now, in terms of the GP who treated me during my PPD, he was the ultimate example of a doctor with extremely poor bedside manner.  The way I was treated by him and my OB/GYN angered me so much that I wrote them both letters during my recovery from PPD, telling them that their treatment of me aggravated my already extremely painful experience, they should get with the program when it comes to PPD, and I was dropping them and moving on to doctors who didn’t lack bedside manner the way they did.

 

Infertility and Complications

Can you share a little about your experiences with both?

Without getting into the details as covered in my book about my infertility experience and childbirth complications, I’ll just say that, like more and more women these days, I got married late (at age 36 ), had a dermoid cyst removed a year later to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant and not having it get in the way of a developing fetus, tried to conceive naturally for over a year before being referred to an IVF center where we failed our first cycle (it was such less than optimal experience mostly because the staff and environmental overall were cold and disorganized), and got pregnant successfully via my 2nd IVF cycle at a different center.  What started off as 2 fetuses became only one after a car accident I had about 2 months into the pregnancy.  Other than nausea that lasted my entire pregnancy, some spotting, and overall anxiety that I would carry to term, my pregnancy went well.  I delivered vaginally (with an epidural and episiotomy), but ended up having my uterus removed 3 days afterwards due to placenta accreta.  During my entire 7-day stay, I was constantly woken up for blood work and extremely exhausted as a result.  On top of that, I was starved for nearly the whole time I was there.  Due to my surgical procedure, I was kept in an entirely different wing from my daughter for over a day, and whenever I called for a nurse, no one came.  Some nurses were not nice to me at all.  It was like a living hell for me most of the time I was in the hospital.  To get the full details of my infertility, childbirth complications, and PPD experiences, you can read my book. 

 

How can your experience help the readers of Giving Birth with Confidence?

My hope is that those who read about my experience in my book—which covers a lot, including key statistics and information on the biopsychosocial factors behind PPD (infertility and childbirth complications are risk factors)—will become more knowledgeable about perinatal mood disorders.  I hope that they will also read the growing numbers of blogs of mothers who are speaking up about their struggles with perinatal mood disorders.  Why?  Well, knowledge is power.  With more knowledge, there would be less ignorance and stigma, and motherhood myths will have less of a negative impact on mothers than they do today. I want to see fewer mothers being caught off guard and not knowing what is happening to them, should PPD strike.  Being ignorant and unprepared for it causes unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt, and inability to appreciate one’s baby. For example, insomnia after the third week postpartum is a common first symptom of PPD. 

My blog is hit numerous times each day via Google and other search engines using words like “postpartum insomnia,” “new mom insomnia,” “insomnia four weeks after childbirth,” “can’t sleep when the baby sleeps,” “can’t sleep six weeks postpartum,” and so on, which means that there are many moms out there who are going through what I went through, in terms of insomnia as a symptom of PPD, beginning at around 40 days.  That’s right, there’s that magical number again!  Had I known about PPD before my daughter was born, I would not have been as scared as I was as to why I had insomnia and couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted beyond words and even during the times she slept. My fear would not have escalated to full-blown anxiety attacks. I would’ve recognized other symptoms like loss of appetite (I lost so much weight so fast that within a couple of weeks I weighed less than I did before I got pregnant!). As soon as I started to have insomnia, instead of merely taking the Ambien prescribed to me by my OB/GYN, I would’ve immediately known to question it as a sign of PPD and gotten the right treatment then.  As they say, hindsight is 20/20….

 

I would like to thank Ivy for her wonderful work and sharing her experiences and knowledge with Giving Birth with Confidence. To learn more about Ivy, visit her blog at http://ivysppdblog.wordpress.com/.

Bringing Baby Home: Who Ya Gonna Call?

Coming home with a new baby is so exciting! But without adequate support, it can also be so overwhelming. Preparing in advance of baby’s arrival will go a long way to making the postpartum period (and beyond) that much more enjoyable. So, how do you prepare for support? Take inventory of who is available to help you — not just for child care or parenting questions, but for things like listening to your birth story, talking about new parenthood, and calling in the middle of the night with a question. Use the inventory tip sheet below as your guide.

For been-there parents, did you arrange support before baby arrived? How did it help?

 

Reprinted with permission from Passion for Birth®.

Who Ya Gonna Call (Text/Email/IM)? Support Inventory

(Think of friends, family, neighbors, work or school contacts, health care providers, faith-based connections or others. List name and contact information.)

1. To share good times
a.
b.

2. To talk about concerns (feeling blue, process the birth, relationship issues)
a.
b.

3. To provide child care
a.
b.

4. To run errands or provide transportation
a.
b.

5. To share parenting advice
a.
b.

6. To provide breastfeeding support
a.
b.

7. To provide meals or help with household tasks if asked
a.
b.

8. To ask medical questions (about the baby, about you)
a.
b.

9. Who can you call at 3 am for whatever reason?
a.
b.

10. To help in crisis (housing, food, domestic violence, money)
a.
b.

11. To exercise with
a.
b.

12. When you think you may have postpartum depression
a.
b.