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June 14, 2021

5 Ways To Deal With Postpartum Depression

5 Ways To Deal With Postpartum Depression

After going through postpartum depression, my wife took several steps to improve her health.


Postpartum Depression Information

Hello, and welcome to episode 6 of the Parenting Over 40 podcast. I’m your host, Frank Sasso. I’m a licensed psychotherapist in Chicago, IL who has been in the field of wellness for over 15 years. I’m also a dad, who made the decision along with my wife to have a baby after 40. Aside from my work as a therapist, I’m also a certified fitness trainer.  So, yea, my life can get a little crazy. In today’s episode - I want to share with you 5 ways my wife coped with postpartum depression.

Show Highlights

  • Learn why parents experience the baby blues.
  • Useful information for moms from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
  • Understand why Postpartum depression should be taken seriously.
  • Frank shares his wife’s experience with postpartum challenges.
  • Get helpful resources to help cope with depression and anxiety.

You know- I started this podcast because I wanted to reach out to 3 different groups of people.

The first are people thinking of having children, particularly over the age of 35.

So that’s 1.

The second group are mom’s out there who are all about mental and physical wellness and would naturally be attracted to a show that’s focused on self-improvement.

So that’s 2

Then there is group #3.

These are both moms and dads who are feeling overwhelmed by parenting and just looking for some place where they can listen and maybe relate. This 3rd groups encompasses everything from relationship problems to everyday challenges raising kids.

So, if you find yourself falling into one or all three of these groups, let me say that I hope this episode finds you good company! If you like the show, please click the subscribe button on whatever app you’re listening to or on the website.  You can also contact me online by clicking the contact button. 

Just a brief disclaimer before I begin: Even though I am a psychotherapist in private practice -this podcast is not a replacement for therapy or mental health counseling.

Speaking of challenges, that brings us to today’s topic: Postpartum Depression or what’s commonly referred to as PPD.

It’s a subject that many women keep buried deep inside because of the negative stigma that still exists in our society. The good news is things are slowly starting to change.

Is you woman who has struggled with managing your emotions either before, during or after the pregnancy? Have you been wondering why you haven’t been feeling like yourself? I have a feeling that you might be curious about today’s show subject.

About Postpartum Disorders

Now before I get into my wife’s experience with PPD, I want to talk a little bit about some of the confusion out there between what’s commonly referred to as the baby blues and a more serious issue known as Postpartum Disorders. I think the confusion slash misinformation is partially due to our culture, and partly because of some of the terminology that’s being thrown around on social media. You know what I’m talking about, all those hashtags used on Instagram and Facebook.

I’ll just tell it to you straight: The Baby Blues are NOT the same thing as what is clinically referred to as PMAD – short for Postpartum Mood Disorders.

You see, the baby blues is a quite common experience that affects a lot of parents. The research shows that somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of new mothers experience some variation of mood swings during the first few weeks after pregnancy. In fact, that’s normal.

According to an excellent article published on The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia -Common signs of the Baby Blues can include feeling tired, difficulty with sleeping, thinking that nothing will ever be the same after having the baby is born or becoming easily annoyed and not totally understanding the reasons why.

I’ll leave a note in the episode notes.

These are all common thoughts and feelings that happen to moms for the first few weeks after giving birth.

By the way, although we generally think of women when we describe the baby blues, the reality is this phenomenon can happen to both moms and dads. I can remember how my wife and I felt- emotionally after we brought the baby home for the first time. For the first couple of weeks, we were both constantly exhausted and felt anxious around our infant.  That’s probably because neither of us had ever parented before and we needed to adjust to our crazy new schedules.

And for me personally, that took a little getting used to. For years I had become used to sharing a bed with my wife – and then suddenly, I found myself sleeping on the couch with my cat Neptune - so that my wife and newborn child could share our bedroom. Looking back, I know I was feeling a little down and I can’t imagine what my wife must have been experiencing.

So, although these baby blues can sometimes mirror Postpartum symptoms, the emotional and physical problems associated with the Baby Blues generally resolve themselves within 2 weeks of giving birth. With proper sleep, hydration and a lots tender loving care, those temporary symptoms can literally disappear.

Let’s do a thought experiment on the baby blues to help you understand the difference. Just imagine, you have a situation where before the baby was born – you have this woman who was used to getting a good amount sleep each night and maybe sticking to a regular routine of going to work, eating on a regular schedule, spending some quality time with her partner or maybe she was used to just doing stuff on her own. Suddenly, there is this baby on the scene and everything has changes in an instant. I mean a baby is shameless right? They don’t care that your world has been turned upside down. They will poo on you, throw up on you, and cry at the top of their lungs all night and they just don’t care who sees it. Like I said, little babies are shameless.

New Moms Experiencing the Baby Blues

And as a mom, you’re not supposed to have any emotional reaction to these changes? You’re supposed to just suck it up and deal with it? You mean to tell me you’re not allowed to grieve - even a little bit for the life you once had? Perhaps someone sarcastically told you that you’re supposed to know exactly what to do  after the baby is born because you had 9 months to plan for it?

Maybe your own parents have somehow convinced you that being a new parent isn’t a big deal and they have shamed you into thinking you’re a bad parent because you’re having a hard time with the big changes?

Well, I can tell you as a dad and someone who has been trained in psychology that things aren’t quite that simple. There are certainly going to be some mood swings for both mommy and daddy after the baby comes home. That’s life – that’s how it is!

So yea- feeling like your on an emotional roller coaster for a couple of weeks after bringing a new life into the world is to be expected.

On the other hand, a situation of a Postpartum Mood Disorder is a much more serious problem that needs to be addressed by a professional. Again, according to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Postpartum Mood Disorders occur when the Baby Blues Symptoms go beyond a 2-week time span and start to interfere with your everyday living. I just want to reiterate that point. If your symptoms go beyond 2 weeks, you might be dealing with something more than the Baby Blues.

Stigma Around Postpartum Disorders

Unfortunately, there is so much stigma out there around this subject that many moms are just too ashamed to reach out for help because they are worried about being judged. What’s even more discouraging is there are many moms who are fearful that their spouses or family members will be unsupportive and maybe just blow the problem off.

For too often, and in too many ways mothers have heard other people try to minimize the way they are feeling by just brushing their emotions aside and saying things like it’s not a big deal – just get over it or don’t worry, it’s just your hormones.

Well, I’ve got news for you – especially some of you dads - it isn’t just hormones.

Even with all our advancements in technology, the medical community can’t really put their finger on exactly why Postpartum depression happens- but we do know that both biological and psychosocial factors play a role in the diagnosis. Psychosocial is just clinical jargon that means the relationship between social and psychological factors. For example, we know that a woman who has a family history of anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder may develop into a postpartum disorder. A female who has experienced stressful events during her lifetime may also trigger symptoms.

So if you are mom out there or a soon to be mom - who has been struggling with some of these issues for longer than 2 weeks, it’s definitely a good idea to get some professional support.

We throw the word Postpartum Depression around a lot in our society as a kind of catch all phrase for the emotional changes that can sometimes happen during pregnancy. But clinically a woman can experience depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive thoughts and in some cases psychosis – and these problems can happen well before the baby is born. In psychotherapy, we refer to the timespan before and after the baby is born as the perinatal phase.

Left untreated, a perinatal or postpartum disorder can have unwanted effects on both the mother and the child. According to the research, parents with these disorders may be less likely to physically engage with their newborns during the first year of life. Another factor to consider is children of depressed or anxious parents may develop learning challenges or behavioral difficulties as they grow older.

So okay, the research is completely clear. If you have been struggling with racing thoughts, feeling sad or unexplainable mood swings for longer than two weeks, please consider enlisting the support of a professionals who can help.

Let me make an analogy here.

Look, if you woke up one morning and discovered all these red bumps on your arm and they started to become itchy and painful over time - you would probably contact your doctor to get some answers. It would be helpful to know what was causing the inflammation and to maybe get some treatment to make the pain go away.

There’s really no difference between that scenario and getting help for a potential perinatal or postpartum problem that might be going on inside of you.

Mom’s there is no shame in reaching out to a professional healthcare provider for help. Your mental wellness is every bit as important as your physical health. If you do not already have a health care provider, here 3 resources you can use.

First -You can go to the Psychology Today website at www.psychologytoday.com Just type in your zip code to search for a mental health professional in your local area.

Second: You can also call the SAMSHA Hotline at 1-800-662-Help. The hotline is available 24/7

Third you can visit the Postpartum Stress Center on Facebook for additional support and information.

The final resource I’d like to recommend is a book named Good Moms have Scary Thoughts. It’s written by Karen Kleiman, who is the founder of the Postpartum stress center. I’ll leave a link to the resources I’ve mentioned, as well as the book in the episode links.

Did you know that Nearly 60% of women with depressive symptoms do not receive an appropriate clinical diagnosis? If that wasn’t bad enough 50% of women who do receive a diagnosis are not receiving any kind of treatment whatsoever.

That’s an awful lot of moms out there who are in desperate need of help.

How my wife coped with Postpartum Depression

Now onto the 5 Things my wife did to cope with Postpartum Depression.

So, around 5 weeks after our daughter was born, my wife seemed noticeably off to me. It was pretty evident that she wasn’t the same happy and playful spouse I had known before the baby came home. My wife owns her own beauty salon that installs women’s hair extensions and I know having to step away from that for a while had to have some effect on her emotions.

And since my wife was 40 when she gave birth, and we had been together a long time, I had gotten fairly good at reading her mood level. There were other things going on with her that weren’t normal to her personality. Like she would all in the sudden start crying for seemingly no reason at all. When I would come running into the other room to ask her what’s wrong, she would just reply by whimpering, “I don’t know”.

On top of that, my wife also started having these intense panic attacks, I’m talking such bad panic that it got to a point where she thought she might be having a heart attack.  Other changes I noticed were that she wasn’t eating much and that she had a short temper.

It wasn’t like she yelled at our baby or anything, but I could see that she was pretty edgy.

From my perceptive, what she was experiencing was a lot more than just the baby blues.

Now to complicate matters, I knew that in my wife’s Filipino culture - talking about things like depression and anxiety doesn’t come naturally. And the fact that I’m a psychotherapist made matters worse because the last thing my wife wants - is to feel like her husband is psychoanalyzing her.

So I tried to approach the subject with her very gently, and suggested she talk to the OBGYN for some help. At first, she became really defensive about my idea and vehemently resisted the suggestion.

She went on to explain that in her Filipino culture, people keep depressive feelings hush hush, because her friends and family will think she’s crazy  - or as she put it, a mental case. She explained to me in no uncertain terms that in her culture – she was expected to just get over it.

Finally, after a few more weeks of her feeling miserable, I became more concerned that her mood level could eventually have a negative effect on our daughter. So with a little patience, and a lot of Hershey’s Kisses Chocolates, I carefully revisited the subject again and was finally able to convince her to talk with her doctor.

Her OBGYN had her take something called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. It’s short 10 question evaluation used to identify risks for depression and even probes for suicidal thoughts.

Well, my wife has given me permission to share a little bit about her results. I can tell you her score on the Edinburg Assessment indicated that she was most likely experiencing postnatal depression.

As a result, her doctor put into place a series of 5 actions to help my wife improve her symptoms.

 

  1. Medication

For my wife, accepting the notion that she needed medication to cope with postpartum depression was a major hurdle. In her mind, taking anti-depressants only validated her cultural belief that postpartum meant she couldn’t be a good mother. So, while still trying to be very respectful of my wife’s schema of the world, we made an agreement that she would try the medication for a month and see if it made any difference.

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The second action my wife took was to start meeting with a cognitive behavioral therapist who had experience working with postpartum depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT is a form of psychotherapy that has been proven to help with anxiety and depression disorders. It’s different than say the style of psychotherapy where you tell the clinician all about your earliest childhood memories.  That’s called in the clinical world psychodynamic approaches and they can be useful for many different mental health issues.

But CBT is a little different because it primarily focuses thoughts that occur in the here and now – and it’s structured in such a way that it gave her tools she could use in the moment of emotional crisis, so that she could better manage her mood level.

Having said that - a CBT therapist is likely to give you short homework assignments which help you challenge what we call in the counseling world distorted thoughts. You might be wondering, what is a distorted thought?

In my private practice, I generally offer Cognitive Therapy to my clients, so I can tell you a typical example of a distorted thought.

A client will usually say something like this:

I’m never going to feel better or I’m always going to feel this way.

A CBT therapist might help you to think about those negative self-talk words such as Always and Never and put it into a different context. The therapist might ask:  How do you know you’re never going to feel better?  Or do you have any evidence that you’re always going to feel this way?

The CBT therapist also taught my wife how to use mindfulness meditation to reduce her anxiety and bring herself out of the body’s fight or flight response system. Each night, for just a couple of mins, my wife would quietly meditate in the other room – and allow herself to bring more balance to both her mind and body.

Enlisted Support of Family members

The third action my wife took was to start reaching out to family members. She realized that all that time self-isolating was mentally putting an enormous amount of pressure on her shoulders. You see, as humans, we were not designed to be alone all the time. When we isolate ourselves with negative thoughts, we can easily end up staying in that world.

So for my wife, she slowly but surely started socializing again with her friends and family members. Even if it was just for brief amounts of time, she began having social contact again with those close to her in her life. And almost every time she socialized with others, she ended up feeling a little better. Yea, sure, she had to drag herself outside at times to do it – but afterwards, she would tell me it wasn’t as bad as she thought and that she actually had a good time.

And to be fair, seeing her mother was pretty easy because you see my mother in law lives in the same building as us. Don’t get me started on that one, because that subject is a whole other episode.

Kidding aside, I teamed up with my mother and law and took turns watching the baby for a few hours at a time– This allowed my wife to do simple things like take a warm bath or even catch up on her favorite comedy show. The little things made a huge difference on her mood level.

 

  1. Yoga

The Fourth action my wife took was to start doing Yoga from home. She wasn’t able to drive down to our local Yoga Studio, so she would watch do Yoga with You Tube videos 3 or 4 times a week on her own.

The thing about Yoga is that there is clear evidence that it can have a significant impact on depression and anxiety symptoms. A research article published on The National Library of Medicine’s website titled: The Efficacy of Yoga for Postpartum Women showed astonishing results. They took 57 women with depression and assigned half of the group to 8 weeks of Yoga classes, while the other control group didn’t have any yoga at all.

Out of the woman who did take the yoga classes, an amazing 78% experienced a significant improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms. That’s just incredible, isn’t it? And I can tell you from my own subjective observations of my wife, doing Yoga really did seem to make a difference.

 

  1. Online Support Group

The fifth action my wife took was to join an online support group through a website called Postpartum Support International. The reason why support group worked so well for her was because it brought her together with other women who were experiencing the same challenges as she was. In real time, she was able to get emotional support from other women and learn about coping strategies for managing her postpartum depression.

After a while, she didn’t feel so alone. In fact, she kind of had this whole schedule where she would fill different parts of her day with self-care activities. One day she’d be meeting with her therapist, the next doing a little Yoga, and on another talking with her online support group.

After a few months, my wife’s mood level started to turn the corner. She still had some days where she felt kind of down, but overall, I could see that she was feeling much better. Later on, her doctor decided that my wife no longer needed to be on medication, but that she wanted her to keep up with all the other self-care activities she was doing.

Thankfully, everything turned out okay.

Well, we covered a lot of issues in today’s podcast, wouldn’t you say? We explored the difference between when parents experience the typical Baby Blues and the potentially more serious problems related to perinatal and postpartum disorders. Then we looked at a few resources for mother’s who might be showing the signs of PPD. And if that wasn’t enough, we walked thru the 5 strategies my wife used for coping with Postpartum Depression. Oh, and I sort of shared how I was thrown out of our bedroom for a few weeks after our daughter was first born.

I’d like to take opportunity to say thank you for listening to the show. I really appreciate the reviews some of you are leaving on Apple Podcasts. Here’s one review written by Watercooler25, “I liked the personal story telling and particularly the adoption show”.

You see friends, it’s seeing those kinds of comments that inspire me to want to do more episodes. Since I’m basically a one-man podcast, it can be challenging to push out new episodes every couple of weeks. I’m working hard to release more subject matter that you might find useful.

So, if you feel so inspired, please feel free to share your thoughts on whatever app your listening with and by all means, please subscribe.

There are many ways you can reach me online thru social media. You can find the show on Instagram as well as Facebook. You can also visit our website – at anxietytherapistpodcast.com for more information and to visit the links I’ve mentioned in this episode, as well as other episodes.

Take care, I’m Frank Sasso and this has been another episode of the Anxiety Therapist Podcast.