Psychotherapist in Santa Barbara, Ca

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Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

The birth of a child is a new chapter in the life of a family. Every parent goes through an adjustment period, for most people this adjustment is challenging. New parents are adjusting to;

  • the constant demands of a newborn
  • exhaustion  
  • the new role of motherhood, fatherhood, or the challenges of having multiple children.
  • missing the freedom that you had before having a baby
  • the woman's changing body 
  • hormonal mood swings, anxiety or stress 
  • changes in the relationship with their partner

Having intense feelings are a normal response to the hormonal and circumstantial changes one goes through postpartum. This is commonly referred to as "baby blues." It typically begins around day 3 postpartum and can last up to 4 weeks. Many mothers describe feeling as they though are in a fog for the first several weeks of caring for their newborn.    There are times when the adjustment goes beyond the normal "baby blues." When symptoms persist or begin to intensify, this may indicate a more serious challenge in the Postpartum Adjustment. Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety can occur at anytime from conception though the first year postpartum. It is common for symptoms to begin 3 months postpartum, during the first menstrual cycle, or during weaning from breastfeeding (even if this is past the one year mark.)  Symptoms of Postpartum Depression may look like clinical depression, in which a person cannot get out of bed, is tearful, or is having difficulty functioning. However, it is much more common for a new parent to experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Up to 20% of women struggle with a serious Postpartum Depression or Anxiety Disorder. 

Please note that symptoms of depression and anxiety can occur in biological mothers, dad's, partners, and adoptive parents. 

Signs or Symptoms of Postpartum Depression or Anxiety

  • Restlessness, worry, and nervousness
  • Change in Appetite 
  • Trouble Sleeping when the Baby is Sleeping
  • Trouble Concentrating
  • Overly Irritable and Angry
  • Tearful and Emotional
  • ​Racing Thoughts
  • ​Feeling a Sense of Dread, like Something Terrible Will Happen
  • ​Feeling Guilty for Not Enjoying Parenthood
  • Not Feeling Like Yourself, Feeling Disconnected
  • Constantly Thinking About the Birth
  • Not Enjoying the Things You Used To
  • Experiencing Panic Attacks
  • Ambivalence About Your Baby
  • Fear of Being Alone with the Baby
  • Over Protective of Baby
  • Fear of Leaving your Baby with a Trusted Caregiver
  • Isolating Yourself
  • Obsession with Germs or Cleanliness (over washing of hands, rewashing bottles or toys) 
  • Constant Scary Thoughts ( "waking nightmares." visualizing worst case scenario's, what if's, visions of harming the baby, horrified by ones own thoughts)
  • Overly Concerned with the Health of your Baby (constant research on the internet or books)
  • Feeling Bad About Yourself  ("Every other mom is a better mom than I am" "Why is parenthood so easy for  everyone else and so difficult for me?")
  • Feeling Hopeless  ("Things will never get better. I've ruined my life" )
  • Thoughts of Running Away

The severity of symptoms varies. Some mothers experience significant impairment in functioning, while many mothers seem to hold it together in the company of others and then fall apart when alone. It can be difficult to determine whether your symptoms are a result of a normal period of adjustment or indicate a more serious symptoms of a Postpartum Depression or Anxiety. If you are having a difficult time, it is important to discuss your symptoms with a doctor or therapist with specialized training in treating Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. Postpartum Adjustment tends to get better over time. Postpartum Depression and Anxiety generally get worse, do not resolve on their own, and require treatment.    In rare circumstances a women may exhibit signs of a more serious condition, Postpartum Psychosis.

Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis may include;

paranoid delusions (I'm being followed or watched, people are trying to steal my baby,)

have disorganized thinking, extreme confusion (whose baby is this?) or may see, hear, or smell things that are not there.

Women may experience these symptoms continuously or the symptoms may come and go.

Unlike Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, Postpartum Psychosis has a sudden onset and generally occurs immediately following birth or within the first few weeks. If these symptoms are present, it is a medical emergency, one must seek medical treatment immediately.  

Dad's and Partner's 

Partner's often need support if the mother of their children is suffering from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety. This can be a scary time for partner's; they may worry about the mother of their child and are taking on new responsibilities in caring for their baby. Dad's and Partner's can also suffer from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety. It is estimated that 1 in 10 partners do, particularly if there is a history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Dad's or Partner's are twice as likely to suffer from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety if their partner is also suffering. Parenthood inevitably brings additional financial pressures, a shift in relationship with their partners, sleep deprivation, and social isolation. It is common for Dad's or Partner's to struggle to feel bonded with their infants and may feel like an outsider in the new mother-infant bond. This can be a lonely time. Communication with your partner is key during this time of adjustments. Do not hesitate to reach out for professional help if you are having a difficult time.