Having a Baby and Emotional Health

She rolled over and glanced at the clock, not wanting to get up after a night of waking often and the baby struggling to go back to sleep, she began to cry. Motherhood seemed so hard, exhausting and overwhelming. She worried today would be another difficult day. She knew deep down that she needed to ask for help.

Moms and dads experience stress during the transition to being first time parents or adding to their family. Some challenges include lack of family to help, financial stress, changes or pressures from work, health issues and communication issues. The shift to any new life stage can be challenging and sometimes the way we feel physically, emotionally and mentally shows signs of a bigger issue.

Many levels of distress exist during pregnancy and throughout the baby’s first year, known as the perinatal period. The stress level will change from month to month. Some parents feel worn down, doubt themselves, others feel more intense symptoms of mood changes, anxiety, intrusive thoughts or images and a few will fall out of touch with reality. At each of these levels, there are ways to feel strong again.

Your medical team will be assessing your emotional and mental health during doctor’s visits, at delivery and postpartum. Let them know what you are feeling, what you are struggling with. According to Postpartum Support International, one in seven moms and one in 10 dads experience more intense distress, referred to as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

There are various types of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders include Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Psychosis. You may experience symptoms of more than just one. Some symptoms to watch for are: mood changes, difficulty concentrating, lack of pleasure in activities, isolation, feeling lethargic, anger, changes in appetite – increased or decreased, having disrupted sleep even when baby is sleeping, crying spells, excessive worry, thinking about topics over and over, feeling restless, body sensations of panic, thoughts of dread, feeling tense, racing thoughts, intrusive thoughts or images that you do not like, flashbacks to a dangerous situation, nightmares, avoidance, scanning situations for danger and in the cases that require immediate medical attention, not being in touch with reality, as well as thoughts and plans to harm yourself or baby.

To learn more, visit the Postpartum Support International website www.postpartum.net or call the HelpLine 800-944-4773 (4PPD). A local Coordinator can connect you to resources that fit your needs. There are support groups (in-person and online), individual counseling, couples counseling, hospital programs and medication treatment. You and your medical team can decide what is best for you. You are not alone.

Self-care is often put lowest on the list, however it is important to take time to refuel yourself. Identify what you do need help with, including grocery shopping or making meals. Nutrition and getting moving can make a difference in keeping up your energy. Having good sleep habits will strengthen those precious windows of sleep you do have. Limit social media time, we compare ourselves to others and often feel worse. Talk to a trustworthy person about your doubts and worries.

Moms and dads experience biological, psychological and social changes during the transition to parenthood or a growing family. Asking for help is hard, but you will wake up feeling more hopeful. May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness month, visit Postpartum Support International – Illinois Chapter to learn about activities in your area.

Kathryn D. Gardner
LCPC, PMH-C

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Kathryn D. Gardner, LCPC, PMH-C is a Certified Perinatal Mental Health Specialist, working with women and families to cope before, during and after pregnancy. Kathryn is the Chairman of the Board for Postpartum Support International – Illinois Chapter. She also is the Group Leader for the Cherished Angel Perinatal Loss support group at Little Company of Mary Hospital, which is held on the third Saturday of every month at 10:30 a.m. at the Hospital. She is the proud wife of a Chicago Police Officer and they have two active kids.

Kathryn can be reached via email at kathryn@kathryngardner.com. For more information about the Cherished Angel Perinatal Loss Support Group, email cherishedangelsupport@lcmh.org or call 708.229.5928.

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