Although you surely didn't expect to feel hopeless, anxious, or depressed upon becoming a mother, these feelings aren't uncommon. They also aren't your fault—and they don't have to stick around. We asked three top psychologists who specialize in postpartum depression for their advice, so that you can move forward—feeling balanced and happy—in your new life as a mom.
Alyson M. Stone, PhD, CGP, a licensed psychologist, writer and public speaker
"Having a baby is a joyful experience for many, but not for everyone, and not all the time. It can be isolating to feel sad, angry, or afraid when you believe you are supposed to be happy. Shame and guilt about these feelings can keep women from receiving support from their partners and friends. I developed postpartum depression after the birth of my first child and, despite having a Ph.D. in psychology, didn't recognize I was depressed. Instead, I blamed myself for my suffering. I finally found relief with the help of family and a good counselor. I encourage mothers who are struggling to take their feelings seriously and reach out for help. Call a therapist; talk to loved ones; take time every day for self-care, even if it's brief. Leave your baby for an hour with someone you trust so you can have some vital time alone. Prioritizing your self-care is the best way to be healthy and fully available for your child, yourself, and the family you are building."
Pec Indman, EdD, MFT, Director of Women's Health at Regroup Therapy and co-author of Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression & Anxiety
"Postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in up to 1 out of every 5 moms. PPD has become a catch-all term for what really includes postpartum anxiety, post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, and the most rare, postpartum psychosis (occurs in about 1-2 per 1000). Symptoms can begin during pregnancy or in the first year after the birth. The most common symptoms women experience are feeling like they can't cope, sadness, guilt and shame, excessive worry, sleep problems, and irritability. There are many kinds of effective treatments! Support or therapy groups (online or in person), talk therapy (in particular, cognitive behavioral and Interpersonal therapy), and medications that can be used even if you are breastfeeding. The most important thing is to find accurate information and a healthcare provider or therapist who has had training in women's mental health. Untreated illness doesn't always go away on its own, and can contribute to chronic mental health problems, family stress and discord, and depression and anxiety in infants and children. Treatment works!"
Jessica Zucker, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing in women's reproductive and maternal mental health
"Research reveals that perinatal and postpartum mood disorders are often linked to strivings for perfection, unexplored and often unrealistic expectations of control, anxiety and depression during pregnancy, prior history of depression, family history of depression, ambivalence around issues of mutual dependency, helplessness, history of early loss, trauma, or abuse, previous bouts of postpartum depression, obstetrical complications, and lack of social support. The prognosis for postpartum depression is directly tied to the swiftness with which one addresses the symptoms. In other words, responding to internal uneasiness straight away can make a world of difference for both mommy and baby.
"The impact of postpartum mood disorders on the family is noteworthy. When a mother is feeling overwrought or disengaged from her baby and her newfound role as a mother for a prolonged period of time, the attachment relationship inevitably suffers. Babies thrive when their caregivers are attuned, predictable, responsive, and emotionally present. In no way does this mean that mothers are required to be perfect. Far from it; the pressure of perfection is often what drives women to feel that much worse about their crippling state of mind and therefore furthers their silence. In order for the relationship to flourish, mothers need to feel a sense of sturdiness as they navigate this unchartered territory. Many women feel anything but steady as they traverse sleepless nights, overwhelming responsibilities, and enormous shifts in identity. This is what help is for. Psychotherapy and/or psychiatric consultation has the potential to help arm women with the tools they need in order to feel joy, to experience connection, or to understand the roots of the complicated feelings that have emerged upon becoming a mother."