Having a baby is one of the top life-altering experiences.
All of sudden a tiny human is in your life, completely and utterly dependent on you. So many changes happen all at once—and not just physically. Bringing a baby home changes us mentally. We know more about postpartum mental health than ever before, and the stigma around it is changing thanks to research, testimonials and awareness campaigns. But, there is a lot of false information out there.
To help you figure out the truth, we’re going to take some popular opinions around maternal mental health and fact check them. (Basically, a game of true and false.) Ready? Let’s go!
1. Postpartum depression is when you feel sad after your baby is born
FALSE. Postpartum depression is much more than feeling sad. As anyone who has suffered or is suffering with depression can tell you, it’s more than one feeling. Sure, you may feel sad, but you’ll feel more than that.
“I felt like a zombie. I couldn’t access my heart. I couldn’t access my emotions. I couldn’t connect,” Gwyneth Paltrow told Good Housekeeping about her postpartum depression.
Also, postpartum depression isn’t the same as the Baby Blues. The American Pregnancy Association describes the Baby Blues as “a few days to two weeks of mild ups and downs, weepiness, and stress.” If symptoms last after two weeks, healthcare providers consider it a perinatal mood disorder.
(Wait, what’s that?)
Postpartum depression is the most common postpartum mental health disorder, but it’s actually part of a larger group called perinatal mood disorders (PMD). This term includes postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive compulsive disorder, and more.
2. You’ll not want to be with you baby
TRUE & FALSE. If you’re suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, it may mean that you don’t want to spend time with your baby. But, it could also make you fiercely protective of your baby, make you want to spend all of your time with your baby, or even feel extremely anxious about letting anyone else take care of him/her.
“Every day, I would drive to work and think about all the ways that Milo [her baby] could die in the hands of his caretakers,” Alyssa Milano told CBS. “Every night, after working 16-hour days, after I was finally able to hold my child and put him to sleep, my day’s anxiety would culminate into a debilitating anxiety attack.”
3. Perinatal Mood Disorders only affect women post-childbirth
FALSE. “You can get postpartum depression or anxiety even if you’ve never experienced episodes of depression or anxiety prior to having your baby,” said Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, an online blog and support group for women experiencing perinatal mood disorders (PMD).
Also, PMD doesn’t just affect women who already have depression or anxiety. PMD is caused by a multitude of biological factors and psychological factors like a traumatic birth, a loss in the family, or the lifestyle change of having a baby itself. And, the cause of PMD can’t always be traced back to a single factor.
“At first I thought what I was feeling was just exhaustion, but with it came an overriding sense of panic that I had never felt before,” wrote actress Brooke Shields in her book, Down Came the Rain: My Journey With Postpartum Depression. “I began to dread the moment when Chris would bring her [Brooke’s baby] back to me. I started to experience a sick sensation in my stomach; it was as if a vise were tightening around my chest…a feeling of devastation overcame me.”
5. The movie “Tully” shows postpartum depression
TRUE/FALSE. The movie “Tully” stars Charlize Theron as a mom of three. While this movie seems to be a funny, honest and relatable depiction of motherhood, the story has a twist. We won’t spoil it for you, but we do want to clear up one myth: Postpartum depression is different from postpartum psychosis.
“Tully” portrays what seems to be postpartum depression, but in fact is much more serious. It’s postpartum psychosis (or manic depression), which left undiagnosed or untreated, can completely alter someone’s reality and cause hallucinations and make them do things they would never do. This is very rare and only occurs in 1 of 1,000 women. Which is why “Tully” has received a lot of backlash from survivors of perinatal mood disorders.
5. One in 7 women experience postpartum mental health disorders
TRUE. According to Postpartum Support International, 15% (1 in 7) moms experience a perinatal mood disorder. (One in 9 women experience postpartum depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
“Anxiety and depression among pregnant and postpartum women is not rare—current statistics [which reflect only self-reported cases] mean that a busy OB/GYN who is seeing 20 to 30 patients a day potentially sees 5 to 8 patients a day who are dealing with this,” Dr. Emily Dossett, psychiatrist who specializes in women’s health, told A Women’s Health.
6. Only women can have perinatal mood disorders
FALSE. Men can suffer from Paternal Postpartum Depression. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed 43 studies of more than 28,000 fathers worldwide and showed that 10 percent of men worldwide displayed signs of depression.
“That’s more than twice the rate of depression we usually see in men,” James F. Paulson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University, and lead author of the survey, told Parents Magazine. (Check out Postpartum Men for more resources and support groups.)
7. There is no treatment for perinatal mood disorders
FALSE. There are many treatments available for parents suffering from a perinatal mood disorder. From therapy to support groups, to exercise, diet or medication—you have options.
“I love my children more than anything in the world. But like a lot of women, I too struggled with postpartum depression after my first baby was born,” actress, Sarah Michelle Gellar, told People Magazine. “I got help, and made it through, and every day since has been the best gift I could ever have asked for. To those of you going through this, know that you’re not alone and that it really does get better.”
Tying It All Together
Postpartum mental health is extremely important. Whether you’re a new parent or someone you know just became a parent, be supportive, seek help, and ask parents how they are doing. Also, try asking yourself or your friend/family member who’s expecting/a new parent these questions from Postpartum Support International:
- Do you feel more irritable or angry with those around you?
- Are you having difficulty bonding with your baby?
- Do you feel anxious or panicky?
- Are you having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?
- Do you feel like you’re “out of control” or “going crazy”?
- Do you sometimes feel like you never should have become a mother?
- Are you worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself?
You are not alone. There are networks and many support groups for the 1 in 7 parents experiencing a perinatal mood disorder. Reach out to your friends, family and a medical professional for help.
“I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody and I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone,” Chrissy Teigen told Elle Magazine. “I also don’t want to pretend like I know everything about postpartum depression, because it can be different for everybody. But one thing I do know is that—for me—just merely being open about it helps.”