Postpartum Feelings Deserve a Mother’s Embrace
Many mothers feel guilty that they’re not overjoyed after giving birth. Mothers should know that such feelings are normal. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for a mother to be scared and admit that she’s overwhelmed. Maternal health is critical to the well-being of newborns, and to other family members. Having negative or sad feelings, and not enjoying every aspect of motherhood, does not mean that one is a bad mother. Motherhood encompasses a wide range of tasks, and unlike cars, computers and appliances, babies don’t come with manuals.
Becoming a mother for the first or second time is a transformational event because the focus shifts from her to another person who is depending on her for everything. This intense, round-the-clock devotion to a newborn also changes her relationship with a spouse or significant other. Having a newborn can also challenge her priorities at work, as well as the struggles related to balancing family life with caring for a newborn and returning to the workforce.
Postpartum feelings can be uncomfortable and hard to manage after having a first child, and similar feelings may return after giving birth a second or third time. Postpartum women have lots of questions. Some are easy and some are extremely complex. Often, new mothers are afraid of asking any questions at all because they feel embarrassed and say to themselves, “How can I be a mother and not know this?” The truth is, there’s a lot to know, and it’s normal to be unaware of some or many things associated with childbirth and caring for a newborn. Women also worry when they’re sad after giving birth if the “baby blues” will go away, or if they can lead to having postpartum episodes of sadness or depression.
According to the most recent edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental and Emotional Disorders, the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States, between 3 and 6 percent of mothers experience postpartum depression. Other research indicates that the figure could be as high as 20 percent.
You’re Not Alone
Mental health professionals, pediatricians and obstetricians need to work closely with one another to help ensure that new mothers experiencing postpartum feelings are understood. Mothers need to receive the support that will help them adjust and have a plan that will help them with their newborns and educate other family members about what the postpartum mother is going through. Experience has shown that this integrated approach to postpartum care is effective.
If an office visit is not possible, help lines for mothers can also be useful. It’s critical for mothers to take advantage of this resource given how many postpartum mothers lack a support network due to relatives living far away and friends being occupied with matters related to their own families and careers, unable to “pop in” as did people in earlier generations. One such resource is Postpartum Support International (PSI -- www.postpartum.net), a Portland, OR-based organization that promotes awareness, prevention and treatment of mental health issues related to childbearing worldwide. PSI also has several support groups in the Pittsburgh region.
Only through face-to-face or telephone contact with professionals or trained volunteers can postpartum mothers obtain the support or reassurance they need to feel good about themselves, and about life ahead with a newborn.
Rachael Rosen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (BCD) at Cognitive Dynamic Therapy Associates (CDTA), one of Pittsburgh’s leading multi-specialty psychology practices for postpartum referrals. To join her Postpartum Mothers Support Group, which meets in CDTA's Oakland/Shadyside offices, she may be reached at 412.687.8700, x106, or firstname.lastname@example.org