Tag Archives: Self Care for Parents

Postpartum Depression

Risk Factors, Symptoms, and What To Do

Take a Screening Test for PPD

The Baby Blues has become as much an accepted part of being a new mother as engorged breasts and sleep deprivation. But what if the Blues don’t go away? For 10-20% of new mothers, Postpartum Depression (PPD) is an unwanted and difficult part of the first year of motherhood. The causes of PPD are many, and can include hormonal and lifestyle changes, a lack of social support, sleep deprivation, a high-risk pregnancy, a traumatic birth or difficult recovery, or breastfeeding problems. You are also at a higher risk of PPD if you have suffered previously from depression, or have recent losses or trauma in your life. Symptoms of PPD and related disorders can include:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, numb, or crying a lot
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Unusually strong feelings of anger or resentment
  • Lack of energy
  • Having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, numbness, tingling, dizziness or nausea, hyperventilation or other unexplained physical symptoms
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive tiredness
  • Loss of appetite or conversely, overeating and weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions, or confusion
  • Excessive worry about the baby or lack of interest in the baby
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors
  • Fear of hurting the baby or yourself

Many mothers experience only a few of these symptoms, but if you feel like something is wrong and you’re not quite yourself, that is an important signal. If these symptoms persist for two weeks or more, the mother should promptly get support by talking to her doctor or a mental health professional. PPD is a highly treatable condition, with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

If you need medication and you are told that you must give up breastfeeding, make sure you get the advice of a psychiatrist who is knowledgeable about medications for breastfeeding mothers. There are a few antidepressants which are routinely prescribed for breastfeeding mothers with untraceable amounts detectable in the baby’s bloodstream. Moreover, breastfeeding can be beneficial both for the depressed mother, the long-term health of her baby, and bonding, which is even more challenging when a mother is depressed.

Depression not only affects you: it affects your relationships with your partner and your baby. Untreated, depression can lead to bonding difficulties and delayed development or failure to thrive. Getting the help you need to recover quickly is the best thing you can do for your baby and yourself.

Most importantly, tell your support people (your family, friends, partner) how you are feeling. The burden of trying to seem happy and “keeping it all together” can make the depression worse. You need to lean on the people who care about you, get as much help as you need until you’re back to feeling like yourself, and don’t beat yourself up for having PPD. It is NOT YOUR FAULT.

The Mindful Parent: Learning How to Let Go

balloons

“There are so many things we benefit from learning to let go of as parents—comparing our children to others, expecting them to be the people we imagined they would be, attempting to be a perfect housekeeper/caregiver/playmate/chef/lover (insert unrealistic expectation here), and, on some days, even expecting to take a shower!” Read More…

Can You Recover from Depression Without Medication?

73a992a88ccf98e0e7334303949b0c17An article I wrote for the GoodTherapy.org blog. The important take-away: depression is a serious illness. Mild to moderate depression often can be treated through psychotherapy and improved relationships and self-care. But if you need medication to recover, it’s still important to get better however you need to.

http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/can-depression-be-cured-without-medication-1117144

Does Your Personality Style Put You at Risk for Postpartum Depression?

mother baby

By Meri Levy, MA, MFT

What are the risk factors for Postpartum Depression and anxiety? Can your personality contribute to your risk? Check out this article of mine, published on www.GoodTherapy.org.

My Journey Through Postpartum Depression and Panic Disorder

Whenever I talk about the symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, I always include “unusual physical symptoms.” What does that mean? It means that any new physical symptoms that begin during pregnancy and postpartum can be related to mental health. My own experience with postpartum mental illness was quite atypical, and that was partly why I suffered for months before receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment.

I had lots of risk factors for postpartum depression: a previous bout of depression, the death of a loved one, a high-risk pregnancy, a traumatic childbirth, an unsupportive marriage, and breastfeeding difficulties. Even though I had suffered from depression before, after the death of my mother, my postpartum symptoms were not recognizable to me.

After my second child was born, my stress level was off the charts. My older son got kicked out of preschool and I was scrambling to find a preschool that would take him. I never made enough milk for the new baby because he was so big, and he refused to nurse as soon as he started solid foods. I felt guilty about “failing” at breastfeeding and I was also afraid that I would not be able to go back to work after maternity leave because I couldn’t find full-time daycare that would take my challenging and potty-resistant older son.

In the meantime, I had difficulties in my marriage. My husband worked a lot, and when he was there he criticized my parenting style, my cooking, and my housekeeping. I was trying my best to make everyone happy, but I was clearly failing.

During this time, I started to have odd physical symptoms. I started feeling that the room was tilting and that I was off-balance. I had to lie down and felt the room was spinning around me. My doctor thought it was either an inner-ear infection or possibly MS, and I was sent for neurological testing. The tests came back normal, although MS wasn’t ruled out.

My symptoms came and went, and then began to include nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, and an inability to sleep. I had a fever on and off for a couple of months and my white blood-cell count was high. I lost 16 pounds, slept about three to four hours a night, and threw up regularly — out the door of the car, in the sink at the pediatrician’s office, etc. I felt that my body was swaying even when I was perfectly still, and my bed felt like it was shaking as I lay in it trying to sleep. My skin felt prickly and my hands tingled. The dizziness made watching TV or reading impossible, and walking or driving became difficult. I felt sure that I was dying.

My doctor considered an inner ear problem, hormones, diabetes, thyroid, and even encephalitis, but every test came back normal. I was living on Ensure and Gatorade, because I couldn’t keep any solid food down. The stress of caring for my children became unbearable, so we hired a babysitter and I spent most of every day lying in bed, praying to fall asleep for a couple of hours to get some rest. I was prescribed Ativan, but it just knocked me out for an hour or two and I would wake up feeling even worse than before.

After about four months, I fell apart completely and told my doctor that he had to hospitalize me because I wanted to die if they couldn’t stop the agony I was living in. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, but my doctor was still sending me around to specialists, trying to figure out what was physically wrong with me.

I stopped vomiting as soon as I was admitted to the hospital. That was when I realized that whatever was going on with me had to do with stress. I spent 12 days in the hospital, during which time I started taking antidepressants and was prescribed anti-anxiety medications that allowed me to sleep. For a few days, all I did was sleep. When I was awake I was no longer nauseous, but I was filled with unbearable emotional pain. I was terrified that I would never be able to care for my children without getting sick. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

After I was released from the hospital I did a full-day partial hospitalization program for a month. I learned in group therapy about the ways in which I had prioritized my responsibility for others way above self-care, in unhealthy and unhelpful ways, and I began to heal. With the help of medication, therapy, and couples counseling, I recovered. I still had plenty of anxiety at times, but I also had joy and passion for life. I became a lactation educator and led new parent groups for several years, and eight years later I went back to school to become a Marriage and Family Therapist.

I still have to be vigilant about managing stress and self-care. I tell myself that this is the “gift” of being prone to depression and anxiety: I don’t have the “luxury” of tolerating a great deal of stress, or living life in a way that generally makes me unhappy. I am obligated to prioritize joy, peace and comfort as well as caring for my family. I know that I always have to be mindful to avoid a recurrence of depression, but I also know that I am strong and resilient and will do whatever I have to do to be healthy and take good care of myself and my children.

My illness began when my second child was seven months old, and yet no one ever considered a postpartum disorder. My symptoms were consistent with panic disorder and depression, and yet my doctor and my therapist never considered these diagnoses. My hope is that in the future, mothers and their caregivers become better educated to recognize perinatal mood and anxiety disorders so that they can be treated early.

  • If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please call or email us:

Call PSI Warmline (English & Spanish) 1-800-944-4PPD (4773)
Email support@postpartum.net

I offer a support group at the Bay Area Psychotherapy Training Institute for women suffering from perinatal anxiety and depression. Download a flier for the group here.

Nurturing the Nurturer

By Meri Levy, MFT

Taking Care of Yourself as a New Parent

As parents, our job is never-ending. For the next 18-21 years, you are either “on duty” or “on call” 24/7. Strangely, while this never-ending job doesn’t necessarily get easier with time, it often seems less like “work” as our children (and we) mature, and more like “life.”

But it is easy, as we grow into our role as caretakers of our children, to forget another important person who relies upon our care – ourself. We all make this mistake sometimes. If you don’t make sure that your own nutritional, health, emotional, and spiritual needs are met, who do you think will? It has been my experience that the answer is “no one.” As much as our partners may want to attend to our needs, they cannot do it for us. No one but you really knows what it is you need, and many of the things that fulfill us as human beings cannot be done for us.

No one but you can make sure that you eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, indulge in treasured hobbies or activities, get needed downtime, or connect with beloved friends and family.

How important is it to make sure that your own needs are met? Only you can say. One mom might be able to tandem-nurse twins and a toddler while home-schooling her older two children and never see a movie or have dinner out for five years. And be perfectly content. Another might feel burdened and overwhelmed if she doesn’t have lunch with a friend or enjoy a leisurely uninterrupted bath weekly. Or maybe you need an hour every day to drink a cup of tea and read the paper or a good book. You are the only person who can say when your engine’s running low on gas, and what it takes to fill it up.

And it doesn’t help to feel guilty about what you need to do to take care of yourself. If your child needed a nap long after his peers had given it up, would you tell him to “tough it out” and be grumpy for half the day? No, you would do whatever you could to arrange things so that he could get his nap. You deserve the same recognition for your unique temperament and needs.

And you don’t do anyone any favors if you let yourself run on empty for too long. No one wins if you allow yourself to run out of gas on the side of the road. And everyone is affected when you are running low, not just you. You don’t make it to the finish line any faster if you never slow down and take it easy.

This is your life. And raising children is a path, not a destination. You cannot travel the path with joy and stamina without giving yourself the same care you give your children. So take some time this week and plan a couple of activities you can do that will help “fill up your tank.”