How Perinatal Mental Health & Postpartum Depression Counseling Can Help
Depression associated with having a baby often begins during pregnancy, with changes in energy, sleep, and appetite. Postpartum depression can bring deep sadness, indifference to the newborn, and anxiety, leaving a new parent vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and the risk of child abuse.
What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
Postpartum depression describes feelings of sadness, anxiety, or despair experienced after childbirth. Such feelings can be overwhelming, preventing the performance of daily tasks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Postpartum Depression vs. Peripartum Depression
Peripartum refers to depression that occurs during pregnancy or after childbirth. According to a study in JAMA Pediatrics, an estimated one in seven women experiences peripartum depression. Depression can make parenting difficult, increase the potential for neglect, and strain familial relationships.
While peripartum depression is associated with heterosexual women, all gender identities can struggle with this condition. Symptoms of peripartum depression include:
- Changes in appetite; not eating, having irregular meals, or overeating
- Crying jags
- Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
- Anxiousness about or around the baby
- Feeling constantly sad
- Feeling pointless or guilty
- Feelings of being a bad parent
- Irregular sleeping habits with trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Lack of interest in the baby
- Loss of energy
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Purposeless physical activity such as pacing or handwringing
- Thinking of harming the baby or oneself
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Some causes of peripartum depression are:
- A history of mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder, or a history of PPD
- Biological sensitivities to hormonal changes during and after pregnancy
- Genetic vulnerability for peripartum depression
- Lack of partner or family support or an otherwise stressful home life
Baby Blues vs. PPD?
Baby blues and peripartum depression are not the same. Symptoms are usually mild with baby blues and may include crying, emotional instability, fatigue, and feeling overwhelmed. Baby blues also relate to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and birth.
The duration of baby blues and peripartum depression also differs. Baby blues usually subside within two weeks, whereas peripartum depression can last longer and may begin days, weeks, or months after giving birth. Peripartum depression is also linked to a history of mental health concerns, while baby blues are not.
Psychosis is a situation where a person loses touch with reality. A person with peripartum psychosis may see, hear, and believe things that aren’t true.
Peripartum psychosis symptoms are similar to bipolar manic episodes, which usually start with sleeplessness, restlessness, or irritable feelings. These symptoms become more severe and may include:
- Auditory hallucinations
- Delusional beliefs, such as others trying to harm their baby
- Disorientation about place and time
- Erratic behavior
- Rapidly changing moods from severe sadness to energetic behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
- Violent thoughts about hurting the baby
Risk factors for peripartum psychosis include:
- First pregnancy
- History of peripartum psychosis
- History of a traumatic pregnancy
- History of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
- Significant stressful or adverse life events
- Considerable lack of social support
- Discontinuing psychiatric medications during pregnancy
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): ACOG offers information and resources about peripartum depression.
Postpartum Depression After Miscarriage
Peripartum depression is not limited to people who give birth; it can occur in people who have miscarriages and stillbirths. Symptoms include consuming sadness, emptiness, anger, fretfulness, tiredness, guilt, feelings of worthlessness, and jealousy of pregnant people.
6 Ways Postpartum Depression Counseling Can Help
A postpartum depression therapist can help treat this condition with medication and psychotherapy, called talk therapy or mental health counseling. Benefits of peripartum depression counseling include:
Better Ways to Cope with Your Feelings
As a parent, you may not know how to cope with overwhelming feelings and the stress of being a parent. Postpartum depression counseling can help you understand your feelings and how best to handle them.
Postpartum depression counseling can help you respond positively to your role as a parent, such as how to deal with a baby who won’t stop crying.
Realistic Goal Setting
People with peripartum depression often feel worthless and believe they can never be perfect. In peripartum depression counseling, health professionals help you set realistic goals and assessments to regain your sense of worth.
Family or Relationship Therapy
Family and relationship therapy is also integral to postpartum depression counseling. It involves the important people in the person’s life and helps resolve family issues contributing to peripartum depression.
Your healthcare provider may recommend an antidepressant to help treat your peripartum depression. Most antidepressants can be used during breastfeeding with little risk of side effects for the baby. However, before starting any medication therapy, work with your healthcare provider to understand the potential risks and benefits of taking antidepressants.
What is Male Postpartum Depression?
Men can experience peripartum depression, but male postpartum depression is not physical or hormonal. Peripartum depression in men results from changing family dynamics, leaving men isolated or extraneous.
In addition to typical depressive disorder symptoms, men with male peripartum depression may work longer hours, watch more sports, drink more alcohol, and want to be alone more.
Peripartum depression can also lead to men acting aggressively toward their partners and children.
3 Tips on How to Help Your Partner with Postpartum Depression
Family members may not know how to help a wife or partner with postpartum depression. It’s important that we make time to take care of a wife or significant others mental health before, during and after pregnancy. Here are some tips if you find yourself in this situation:
Let the person experiencing peripartum depression know their feelings are valid. Dismissing a person’s peripartum depression means they don’t get the support they need. Don’t judge someone who needs your help.
Create a Plan
Help your partner by creating a plan of healthy ways to cope. Eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising are ways to help someone with postpartum depression.
- Medline Plus. Medline Plus offers information about postpartum depression and other health topics from the National Institutes of Health and other agencies.
Don’t do everything yourself if you’re supporting a partner with peripartum depression. Ask for help from other people you trust, such as family members, and seek out community resources.
- Office on Women’s Health. The Office on Women’s Health is a federal governmental body dedicated to helping women live healthy lives.
- One Tough Job. This organization helps parents by providing parenting support and coaching.
How to Prepare for Your Postpartum Depression Appointment
While you may feel unprepared for your postpartum depression counseling appointment, you can take steps to make yourself feel more comfortable about your therapy.
Schedule at a Convenient Time
Schedule your appointment for when you have enough time to talk to the counselor. It would be best if you weren’t watching the clock while in therapy because it can make you anxious about being elsewhere.
Reserve Time for Yourself Before a Session
Relax before you go to a postpartum depression counseling session. Taking a break before speaking to a counselor helps you think about the issues you want to discuss and the problems you want to work through during the session. Having time for yourself before a session lets you focus when interacting with the counselor.
Remember That Change Takes Time
Don’t expect counseling to be a quick process. Meaningful change takes work, so remind yourself that you are worth the time and effort.
Be Open and Honest
Being open and honest about your struggles with peripartum depression is helpful to your recovery. Your counselor needs to know what help you need. Being open and honest, however, is hard because you may have had issues where someone abused your trust.
For example, someone may have said, “Oh, it’s all in your head,” dismissing the biologically based condition of peripartum depression. Find a counselor to help you understand the biological basis of peripartum depression.
Give Yourself Credit and Go Easy
People with peripartum depression sometimes disparage themselves for not being good enough because they need counseling. You don’t have to be perfect or take criticism for not being perfect when you have peripartum depression. With counseling for peripartum depression, you own your worth and value as a person.
Go With Your Gut
You can choose another provider if your counselor makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable during counseling sessions. Evaluate the counselor and counseling sessions as if you were evaluating any other service for integrity and see how valuable the sessions are to you.
Postpartum Self-Care Tips
Peripartum care starts during your pregnancy. Planning before birth can help make your life easier but won’t always prevent peripartum depression. Still, every bit you can make your life easier will help you after you give birth.
Ask for Help
Bringing home a new baby requires all the help you can get. Ask for help and specify what you need for support. Find your support network before you give birth.
Stock Up on Essentials
Stock up on the care items you need for youself and your baby, such as diapers, baby clothes, and nursing supplies.
Take time to relax after you give birth. Delegate chores to people to help you.
Support for Peripartum Depression
Having peripartum depression is difficult, but you can find help with counseling and healthcare professionals. You are not alone, and support is there for you. With professional counseling, you can recover from peripartum depression.
- Postpartum Support International. Postpartum Support International helps women with postpartum depression and educates the public about this condition.