Postpartum depression and anxiety in the digital age

woman on computer with phone

Social media and the internet have become our “go tos” in accessing news and information. However, this instant connection has created unique pressures for parents. From monitoring screen time, reading the latest parenting research, and scrolling newsfeeds filled with creative birth announcements, extravagant first birthday parties, and family vacations, these digital tools can make any parent feel overwhelmed – especially new mothers.

For mothers who are at risk of or are experiencing postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety, social media and the internet can be quite conflicting. While there are benefits, these tools can exacerbate feelings of isolation and internal stress. Two examples:

  1. The façade of perfectionism and “comparison culture”

Newsfeeds offer a seemingly endless stream of opportunities to compare ourselves to others. For a woman who experiences irrational and distorted thoughts that can accompany PPD and anxiety, scrolling through photographs of happy-faced couples, parents and smiling babies can reignite feelings of shame and guilt or cause her to unnecessarily compare her situation to others. “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I failing at being a mother?” “Why can’t I be my normal self?” “Why am I not connecting with my baby?!”

  1. Cyberchondria

Many women experience intrusive thoughts related to baby’s health during pregnancy and postpartum. Unfortunately, catastrophic thoughts can spiral when a mom attempts to seek reassurance from WebMD and other medical websites. Some health professionals refer to this as “cyberchondria.” It is important that parents try to avoid self-diagnosing and reach out to trained medical and perinatal mental health professionals with questions and concerns.

Signs and symptoms

Self-doubt, irritability and tearfulness can be very normal during the two weeks following birth, and a certain level of emotional conflict can be expected from triggered hormones and sleep deprivation.

Between 70 and 80 percent of women experience the “baby blues” while adjusting to motherhood. However, not all women will experience postpartum depression and anxiety. Symptoms vary in severity and can gradually start and last months.

Some common symptoms of PPD include increased feelings of isolation, the inability to feel motivated to get dressed or get out of bed, uncontrollable crying, anxiety and panic attacks, and emotional numbness. If depressive symptoms persist after a few weeks, it’s essential to connect with a trusted family member, friend, OB-GYN, doula, or mental health professional. It really is never too early to gain support.

What to do

So is social media the enemy for a mother feeling lonely or vulnerable?

Absolutely not! There is great value in connecting online with other parents who can relate and provide advice, support and validation. Embrace the age of social media while also being aware of the risks. Join supportive motherhood forums and groups that avoid shaming. Recognize when the support from parenthood Facebook groups and blogs aren’t enough and when individual therapy and support groups may be the next needed step in healing.

Supportive Web-based resources

  • Social forums, mommy blogs, and websites such as LittleGuide Detroit are excellent tools to connect with other parents in the metropolitan Detroit region to gain valuable resources. Participate in forums where you feel connected and supported.
  • Be intentional with your use of social media and technology. Use creative apps, such as Peanut, that allow you to gain new connections and meet up with other mothers in your local area. Adjusting to parenthood can be lonely. Companionship and social connections are very helpful in managing depression and anxiety.
  • Apps that offer guided meditations and promote mindfulness can also ease anxiety and depressive symptoms. Take the time to breathe! Calm is one app to consider.
  • Check out podcasts that offer insightful perspectives from experts on issues related to infertility, pregnancy, loss and postpartum like Mom & Mind Podcast.

Tips

  • Women shouldn’t feel ashamed if antidepressants are a part of their treatment plan. Obtain the facts from your OB-GYN and lactation consultant about the use of medications.
  • Remember how powerful physical activity is in combating depression and anxiety. Force yourself to get outside and walk if weather permits. Many health professionals also suggest the use of omega-3 fatty acids can help improve depressive symptoms.
  • A mental health professional or an in-person support group provides postpartum adjustment support and treatment. Formal groups, such as Beaumont Postpartum Adjustment Support Groups, offer free weekly support and education to parents.

– Kristen Salem Carney is a local mom and Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer. As a licensed therapist, she provides counseling services to adolescents and adults in addition to treating mothers experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Hey, we’re in this together! A reminder for new parents

woman with arms around man

Unaltered image. Ashley Webb, Flickr. CC license.

Your baby is finally here and your dream of being parents finally came true. Sure, this is something the two of you excitedly dreamed and talked about for so long, but now that baby arrived, you may find yourselves feeling unhappy and disillusioned. Maybe you and your partner are feeling distant from each other when you thought a baby would bring you closer. What’s going on?

Most importantly, know that you aren’t alone. Research conducted by Dr. John Gottman, a renowned couple’s therapist and researcher, found that two-thirds of couples report increased conflict and decreased relationship satisfaction after the birth of their first baby. It can be one of the most stressful times for a couple’s relationship.

It’s been said that having a first baby is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage. Those sweet little babies explode into our hearts and lives; they are the center of our world and the subject of almost all conversations. As a result, becoming new parents is one of the happiest times of our lives, while simultaneously being one of the hardest.

Those first weeks often leave parents feeling scared, clueless and exhausted. Many parents are overwhelmed with the endless work caring for an infant brings. They feel angry and betrayed when their partner doesn’t help out more or seem to care about them or their needs anymore. Parents often take their disappointment and frustration out on each other. Even a strong relationship can be severely strained during this transition time.

So what can couples do to lessen the conflict between them and improve their relationship as they adjust to becoming parents? Here some suggestions to help you keep your relationship positive and strong.

Communication is key

  • Talk to each other. Tell your partner how you’re feeling and what changes would help you feel better. Be sure to avoid criticisms and attacking language, such as using “always” and “never,” which only escalate conflicts. For example, stay away from statements like, “You never help out around here,” or “You’re always late coming home.” When partners hear things like this, they only think about defending themselves instead of truly listening to what you’re saying.
  • Listen. Really, truly listen to your partner’s concerns. Try not to become defensive with each other and instead, look at things from a problem-solving perspective.
  • Be understanding. Make the time and effort to find out what’s going on in your partner’s world from his/her perspective. For example, new moms are biologically hardwired to focus on caring for their newborns and don’t stop to think about how that feels to her partner. While moms don’t intent to exclude or ignore, it is often how dads feel. As a consequence, dads can act out their anger and frustration at feeling left out.

Define a new normal for awhile

  • Welcome help and support. It is perfectly appropriate to ask for and accept help from others. Families used to live in the same area generation after generation, and these relatives helped while first-time parents adjusted to their new roles. That’s often not true today. Instead, accept help from friends, family, co-workers, your religious organization, or community programs that offer it. Ask for help if needed. There is no gold star given for doing it alone.
  • Lower your expectations. It’s OK to let household chores slide or not cook homemade meals. As new parents, your focus should be on caring for baby and taking care of yourselves, which includes getting adequate sleep and bonding as a family. Some other things may need to lapse temporarily and that’s fine. As children grow and parents adjust, these things will once again be addressed.

Returning to work

  • Establish a new routine. Once one or both parents return to work, give yourselves time to work out a new routine. Review it every few weeks and adjust it as needed so that it works for both of you. Understand that finding what works for you both make take some trial and error and it will be unique to your situation.
  • Divide and conquer. Work out a division of labor that seems equitable to both of you. Caring for children, especially infants, is very work intensive. Arguments about “who does what” are common causes of relationship problems for new parents. Find solutions that work for you both then follow through on your part of it. Agree to tweak it as you find what works and what doesn’t.

Appreciate each other

  • Check-in daily. Make time to touch base with your partner daily, even if it’s only 5 minutes. Listen to his/her concerns and be supportive, but don’t try to solve the problems. Sometimes we all need to just vent and know that our partner is there for us. The biggest connections between partners can come from the small moments of feeling heard and valued.
  • Small gestures matter. Leave a note or send a text letting your partner know you’re thinking of them. Thank them for doing something helpful especially when you didn’t even have to ask. Let them know what a great mom or dad they are already. Even a small thing will show that you still love and appreciate your partner.
  • Make time for yourself. Give each other some “me” time on a regular basis, in a way that feels fair to both of you. We all need some time to ourselves to recharge and to stay connected to the person we were before becoming a parent. Revisit your arrangement and adjust it as needed.
  • Time together is important, too. Schedule some time together on a regular basis to have some fun. Too often couples become consumed by the demands of working and parenthood and they neglect each other. Make having fun together a priority!
  • Schedule time for intimacy. No, it doesn’t sound romantic, but with the busy life of new parents, it’s often schedule time for this or it never happens. It’s important to remember that you are both not just parents; you are the partners who fell in love enough to create a family together. Take the time to continue letting your partner know how special he/she is to you and how much you still value them as a person and as a partner.

And remember: Keep your sense of humor! Sometimes the way we look at things and the attitude we take makes all the difference between a big fight and a good laugh!

– Karen Duffy, LPC, NCC is an IFS coordinator with the Beaumont Parenting Program

Even dads get the blues: Postpartum depression in men

silhouette of man with head down

Having a baby is an amazing and wonderful experience, but it can also be overwhelming and stressful. No matter how much moms and dads prepare for the day when they bring their little bundle of joy home, parents can still be shocked by the reality of life with a new baby. It can take time to find the family’s new groove.

This can be complicated further with the addition of the most common complication of childbirth: postpartum depression (PPD). A whopping 10 to 20 percent of new moms will experience PPD and/or postpartum anxiety, and that is only the number of moms who report it!

But what about the dads? Does PPD only affect moms? The answer to that is no. Research is showing that up to 14 percent of new dads in the United States (compared to 10 percent internationally) experience paternal postpartum depression (PPPD).

The symptoms may differ from traditional depression symptoms, making PPPD challenging to diagnose. These symptoms may include:

  • Irritability isolating or withdrawing from relationships
  • Working a lot more or less
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Low motivation
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Impulsivity
  • Risk-taking behaviors, often including turning to substances (e.g., alcohol, prescription drugs, etc.)
  • Physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, muscle aches, stomach/digestion issues, etc.)
  • Anger and outbursts
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts

Untreated depression in dads can have incredibly negative effects in many aspects of life, including impacting their children. Depressed dads are more likely to be stressed out and neglectful, as well as more likely to spank their children and less likely to read/interact with them, all of which can cause long-term consequences for their kids (Nauert, 2015).

The good news is, much like maternal PPD, paternal PPD is easily treatable. If you or someone you know may be experiencing PPPD it’s important to get help. The sooner treatment starts, the sooner you’ll enjoy your new family and be the dad you always wanted to be! For more information please check out these websites:

– Raelle Plante, MSW, Postpartum Adjustment Coordinator with the Parenting Program at Beaumont, Troy

References:

Pregnancy loss: From great expectations to heartbreak

Young girl and little boy siblings

I’m thankful to be Mom to these two.

A blighted ovum. B-L-I-G-H-T-E-D. O-V-U-M.

I had never heard of this before, but it’s what my OB-GYN told me when I was at her office getting my first ultrasound of my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was successful and I had a healthy 7-month-old girl at home. I was so naïve. I wasn’t expecting these words to come out of my doctor’s mouth.

A blighted ovum is when your body thinks it’s pregnant (hence the positive pregnancy test), but there is no fetus. It was an empty sac of tissue in my uterus. Now I had to tell friends and family that I was no longer pregnant, or never really pregnant in the first place. All those thoughts of baby shopping, starting to pick out names, wondering what the baby would look like, what changes I would need to make as our family grew instantly became unimportant and were replaced with thoughts like what am I going to tell people, how should I phrase it, what are they going to think, why did this happen, I hope they don’t ask me questions.

I definitely understood why people waited to announce their pregnancy. So when I miscarried for the second and third time, I didn’t have to tell anyone but my husband. I had three miscarriages in 13 months all during the first trimester. After the third miscarriage, I fell apart. I was bombarded with questions. What was happening? Why was my body betraying me? What I was doing wrong? Did I need to lose weight? Did I need to wait longer before trying to get pregnant again?

I did my research and then met with my OB. I had an article that reviewed and summarized potential causes for repeated miscarriages and we discussed this article. I also tracked my cycle on one of those apps and was able to show my OB months’ worth of data. She determined that I had Late Luteal Phase Defect, which meant that my body wasn’t producing enough of a hormone to maintain the pregnancy. We made a plan for me to see her immediately if/when I was to get pregnant again. Today I have a healthy 2-year-old son.

I learned a lot during this time in my life and, as a psychologist, I am forever reflecting on what helps and what doesn’t. Below are some tips or suggestions for those that have experienced a pregnancy loss or know someone who has.

Grieve

Allow yourself to grieve. Fighting the grieving process will only prolong it. Grieving is different for each individual or couple. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no time limit. Grieving gives meaning and purpose to the loss.

Say what?

Many people don’t know what to say or do when a miscarriage or stillborn birth has occurred. Sometimes not saying anything and just being present is all the person needs at that time. During one of the miscarriages that I had, someone said, “God knows what is best” and while my faith is very important to me and I agreed with this statement, at that moment I did not find that helpful. At that moment I was not ready for logic, I was still processing my own emotions and coming to terms with what was happening.

Know yourself

You know yourself best and what you need. Some individuals prefer information and details (like me), others prefer less information as a way to manage stress/anxiety. Some people need to keep busy and occupied others need solitude and quiet. All of the above is OK, but finding balance is important. After the loss of a pregnancy or infant, seeing other pregnant women or going to a young child’s birthday party may be too much to handle too soon. Give yourself permission to not attend events that may be too overwhelming or emotional. There are other ways that you may be able to be involved or provide support (e.g., sending a gift or video message).

Mood

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These are the stages of grief that you may experience after the loss of a pregnancy or infant. However, there are many other emotions that you may experience as well such as jealousy, anxiety or guilt. Postpartum depression can even occur after a miscarriage or stillborn birth due to the rapid hormonal changes that can happen. Monitor your mood and behavior and seek help from a mental health professional if you are concerned.

Help me

“How do I know if I need help from a mental health professional?” is a question that is sometimes asked. If you notice that completing daily activities of living (e.g., hygiene, chores, other routine tasks, etc.) is difficult or you notice significant changes (increase or decrease) with your sleep or eating habits, it may be a sign that professional help is necessary. Also if you notice changes in your mood such as persistent sadness, this may be an indicator. Sometimes though it can be helpful to talk to a mental health professional to help process through your thoughts and emotions about a significant life event. Contacting your physician or insurance carrier can help you identify a mental health professional.

– Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, PsyD, ABPP, Pediatric Psychologist with Beaumont Children’s Hospital Divisions of Hematology/Oncology & Gastroenterology

Beaumont Parenting Program Contest: Grand Prize Winner

Mom, dad and daughter standing in park

When I found out I was pregnant, I was so excited but also very nervous. My pregnancy was full of constant anxiety and some depression, but I stupidly thought that all of that would just melt away when my daughter was born. Boy was I wrong!

I remember the first night in the hospital: Sitting on the edge of the bed looking over at my newborn daughter all bundled up and my snoring husband enjoying his slumber, I had an intense feeling of panic and doom. I would fall asleep hard, but then wake up basically mid panic attack and then be afraid to fall back asleep.

I was very blessed to have a very supportive husband and also extended family that stayed with us to help with nighttime feedings, but I started feeling guilty because I wasn’t caring for my baby all by myself. It was a terrible cycle and I was continuing to get worse. I started to hear voices and I was paranoid that I would hurt my baby or someone else. I had to spend five days in a mental health facility away from my daughter and family to get myself back. It was the hardest time ever, but I survived it!

Then I was introduced to the Beaumont Parenting Program and an angel by the name of Kelly Ryan. I remember my first postpartum adjustment support group meeting. I walked in and was greeted by her welcoming smile. I was a mess but she was so patient with me. I remember telling my story and bawling to her. Her support and her listening ear helped immensely. She then called the psychiatrist office that the program worked with and got me in for an appointment the very next day! I was also given a contact number to someone who had gone through similar issues. Kelly was doing anything and everything she could to help and continued to tell me that I would make it through this.

I am forever grateful that the Beaumont Parenting Program support group was there to help me make it through my postpartum depression/psychosis. I have since made it my duty to be there for any friend, family member or even stranger who goes through any postpartum issues. I feel that I made it through my issues to pay it forward and help anyone else I can. Together we will make it through this!

– Sarah Hutton

It’s Official! May is Postpartum Depression Awareness Month

Proclamation for PPD Month 2014

Proclamation for PPD Month 2014

In 2011 Postpartum Support International (PSI) declared May to be National Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Since that time, many states, counties and communities have gotten on board and designated May as the time to promote awareness for perinatal mood disorders, which include postpartum depression and anxiety. For the third year in a row, Governor Rick Snyder has officially proclaimed the month of May, Postpartum Depression Awareness Month for the state of Michigan.

It is an honor to receive this sort of designation and an excellent way to bring attention to a struggle that effects so many. One in eight mothers and one in 10 fathers experience postpartum depression and/or anxiety (PPD) after the birth of child. Adoptive parents can also experience PPD. PPD is caused by a combination of biochemical and/or environmental factors. Just as every person is unique, each person may experience PPD in her own way. Symptoms will vary from person to person, but may include tearfulness, anxiety, sadness, depression, irritability, feelings of panic, insomnia, loss of appetite, and obsessive thoughts. The best way to combat this illness is to educate the community, raise awareness, and provide screening to identify those who may be at a higher risk.

Beaumont Health System is proud to be the first hospital in southeast Michigan to offer a program devoted to providing education and support regarding postpartum depression and anxiety. The Parenting Program’s Postpartum Adjustment Program is a lifeline to countless families struggling with PPD. Every mother who delivers within Beaumont Health System is screened for their risk factors for PPD. Education is provided in the hospital so parents will know what a normal adjustment looks like, and when to reach out for additional help. Women who are at a high risk for PPD receive additional follow-up after discharge, and Beaumont provides three weekly, free, postpartum adjustment support groups that are open to the community.

Postpartum depression/anxiety is the most common complication of childbirth. The Postpartum Adjustment Program has the tools and resources to help those affected by PPD who are in need of support and guidance. If you or someone you know is struggling with this illness, please feel free to contact us at (248) 898-3234 and/or attend one of our free groups.

Beaumont offers these free support groups for mothers and families who are experiencing PPD or any difficulty adjusting to the stresses of new parenthood. No registration is required to attend these groups, just come! Bring your baby if you would like, bring a support person if it is comforting to do so, or come alone. We are available to help! See below for days and times.

Monday

  • Time: 7:00—8:30 p.m.
  • Location: Troy Family Medicine Center at 44250 Dequindre Rd.,
    Sterling Heights, MI 48314
    (Located on the East side of Dequindre, across from Beaumont Hospital, Troy, on the campus of the Beaumont Medical Center, Sterling Heights)
  • Enter at the Atrium Entrance. Take the elevators to the left to the third floor. Exit to the right and immediately enter the glass doors to Troy Family Medicine.  The classroom is to the left past the reception desk.

Tuesday

  • Time: 10:00—11:30 a.m.
  • Location: PNC Center, 755 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy, 48084
    (Located between Livernois and Crooks)
  • Enter at the flag poles, 2nd floor, Community Education classroom. Suite 249

Thursday

  • Time: 7:00—8:00 p.m..
  • Location: St. Joan of Arc Parish Center, 22412 Overlake Dr, St. Clair Shores
    (Located north of 8 Mile Rd, east of Greater Mack)

For More Information

–Kelly Ryan, MSW, Parenting Program, Postpartum Adjustment Coordinator

 

You’ll Never Be Prepared To Become A Parent

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No matter how “prepared” I thought I was to be a parent, I wasn’t. I became a mom at 35, so I watched friends and family have kids. Before my kids came into my life, I would say to myself, “When I’m a parent, I’m going to do [fill in the blank].”

Oh, honey. No, you’re not.

Being a parent is the single hardest thing I’ll do in my life. The fact that my kids are twins adds a whole new dimension. But there are a few things I wish I had known or thoroughly understood before holding my two little bundles of joy.

There will come a time when bodily fluids won’t gross you out. My little girl had reflux, so being covered in spit up regularly was par for the course. Remember that show, “You Can’t Do That on Television”? The one where everyone got slimed? Yeah, that was our house. Also, we have a boy. Catching pee so it didn’t hit the TV remote or the leather couch became the norm as well. Note: Spit up and pee aren’t even the grossest things that can happen in a day.

You will mourn your old life and that’s okay. It wasn’t easy for me to adjust to the life of a mom with twins. I thought I’d be able to do all the things I usually do, just with two babies in tow. That doesn’t work out at the beginning; or right now, actually. With feeding schedules and naps, the winter cold and sicknesses, my personal life changed drastically. But even though it’s not the same, it’s better now. It took me a while to get there, but here I am. Late, as moms of twins tend to be.

You do not know the meaning of the phrase, “sleep deprivation.” You don’t. Just accept that. At first my kids fed every two hours. They took 30 minutes to eat and 30 minutes to sit up and digest. An hour later we were back at it. We still get woken up at night, but nothing a re-tucking of the covers won’t fix. I am assured that one day, I will wake up AFTER the sun has risen. One day.

Hot food is a luxury. I think I’m just used to eating lukewarm or cold food now. By the time dinner is ready and you get everyone in their seats with bibs and cups, cut up their food, serve your own, get whatever they dropped on the floor, sit down and get back up to get something else, your food is cold. When you get the chance to eat hot food, take it.

You will be surprised that you are capable of feeling so intensely. It might not come right away, but soon enough, you’ll be so in love with your kids that you can’t imagine anything you wouldn’t do for them—including not flinching when someone hands you a half-chewed olive at the dinner table during your mother-in-law’s birthday party.

—Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples