By Natalie Fitzgerald
From the moment we get pregnant, there’s a lot going on in our bodies (hello supersonic smell, tender breasts, and impromptu napping, just to name a possible few). And there can be a lot going on with our minds and emotions too. In fact, 1 in 5 of us (us being expectant and new moms) will be affected by a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), at some point during pregnancy and/or the first year after giving birth. And we might not even realize it.
What are PMADs?
Awareness is finally being raised about postpartum depression, which falls under the PMAD umbrella, but there are a number of other emotional disorders you, or someone you know might experience, and they can be devastating. But knowledge is power, so let’s go over some of the lesser-known mental health issues.
Anxiety: Extreme worry or fear, most of the time with regards to the baby’s safety. Many women who experience PPA (Postpartum Anxiety) also experience panic attacks, or symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, and a loss of control.
Panic: Just like with anxiety, a mom might experience frequent panic attacks, and feel anxious and nervous much of the time.
PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder often comes on as a result of a traumatic childbirth experience; moms will have flashbacks and unwanted thoughts and feelings continue to come up around the trauma.
Psychosis: Psychosis causes hallucinations and women might hear or see things others cannot, have periods of mania, and seem confused or even forgetful. Psychosis is an emergency and sufferers should seek medical help immediately. Sometimes women who suffer from psychosis are inclined to harm their babies, another reason to seek help ASAP if you suspect you or someone you know might be experiencing this.
OCD: Women with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder often have repetitive thoughts or mental images (obsessions), and might repeat rituals (compulsions) to reduce the anxiety that is brought on by those thoughts. Most of the time the sufferer will not act upon scary or unwanted thoughts, as an individual with psychosis might.
What Causes PMADs?
It’s difficult to predict who might experience PMADs, and the severity can range from mild to extreme (though no point on the spectrum is pleasant). The disorders can be brought on by a physiological or biological change, and can also develop as a result of the environment or expectations a new mom has around her pregnancy and baby. With the drastic shift in hormones during and after pregnancy, many times PMADs are physiological, which is great news—that means they can be safely and effectively treated.
So How Do We Deal With Them?
Whether you or a fellow mom you know is suffering from a PMAD, there are a number of ways to address it, and raise us all up in the process.
One of the most effective things that can be done is to normalize the experience. If you’re dealing with a PMAD, know that it’s common and you are not alone. Too often we play the comparison game with other moms, friends, and, tbh, even strangers on social media. We put pressure on to feel a certain way—that motherhood is nothing but magic, and that every day should be filled with snuggles, laughter, and compliant little ones. Listen mamas, these little people are human too! Our babies are not robots, and despite our best efforts to make the day great or stay on schedule, there will always be things that don’t go smoothly or according to plan. And it’s OK. Try to be gentle with yourself, leave room for flexibility, and take each day in stride.
Ask for it (from your partner, your friends, your family members), hire it (hello postpartum doula, night nurse, or even simply a housekeeper), or reach out for it, the Postpartum Health Alliance Warmline is a lifesaving resource: 619-254-0023.
There are so many of us who see you. We hear you. We have been there, and we want to support you in any way that we can. It might not feel like it, but you got this, mama.
Maintain Your Health
This might sound absurd, but you come first, then everyone else. It’s unnatural, I know. As moms, we often (read: always), put everyone else before ourselves. But this is undeniable: taking care of ourselves, will help us take care of our babies. Do your best to maintain healthy eating habits to keep your energy up through the day, and most importantly, sleep, whenever, wherever, and however, you can. Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture—and torturous it is. Sleep is essential for our sanity as parents, so don’t feel guilty if you choose taking a nap over doing the dishes—it’s strictly a matter of survival.
Natalie Fitzgerald is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and postpartum doula.
Natalie’s approach to sleep training is tailored to each family she works with. She meets them exactly where they are and develops a customized plan to help them reach their sleep goals, based on their unique baby’s needs and their parenting style. Natalie walks alongside families during the time they need the most support, encouraging parents and helping them find a rhythm that works best with their baby and lifestyle.
Natalie is also a member of the Postpartum Health Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. She lives in San Diego with her little ones: Connor (7), Kate (4), and Makenna (1½).
You can follow Natalie or reach out to her with questions on Instagram and Facebook.