08 Oct Shedding light on postpartum darkness
Postpartum depression and anxiety is becoming more widely discussed because it affects many new moms. The terms ‘postpartum depression’ and ‘postpartum anxiety’ have such a stigma and for many, it paints a picture of a new mom who isn’t coping.
Commonly, postpartum women experience some degree of darkness and I believe as a whole we could do better at shedding light on this difficult time for women.
In a 2014 study, 7.5% of women in Canada reported depressive symptoms in the postpartum period. Before they became pregnant, 15.5% of women were either diagnosed with depression or treated with anti-depressants (Public Health Agency of Canada)
I have had 2 children, and both times I remember feeling down, overwhelmed, isolated and just not myself. I hated when people would ask me:
“Do you think you have postpartum depression?”
Retrospectively, I did have elements of postpartum depression and can now recognize the symptoms that were present in myself during that time. Postpartum, I had an inkling of what was going on but felt so uncomfortable with putting a label on how I was feeling.
It’s a big step to recognize the symptoms of postpartum darkness and depression but it’s an even bigger step to start working towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
Do we give women enough support postpartum?
Now that I am no longer experiencing those feelings (my youngest is 3), I find myself wondering if we provide enough help to postpartum women who are often in the same boat that I was. As a pelvic health physical therapist, the majority of my caseload is postpartum moms. I see a small piece of myself in each of them.
Let’s start by going further into why women feel the postpartum blues:
- Hormone changes
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of family support and isolation
- Opinionated family members and friends
- Being too proud to reach out for help
- The pressure to have it all together like everyone else on social media
- Google becomes the go-to which can be a rabbit hole of information
- Physical symptoms that are unaddressed
Where do I fit in?
My expertise lies in addressing the physical postpartum symptoms. Pelvic health physical therapy can play a part in helping women in this time of darkness.
Women come to see me for issues like:
- Leaking pee
- The feeling of an organ out of place in their vagina
- Weak core
- Back pain
- Abdominal separation
- Decreased pleasure or discomfort with sex
Postpartum women come to see ME for their PHYSICAL symptoms, however, the physical aspect is so interconnected with the emotional component that it becomes impossible to address one without creating a change in the other.
For example; If women:
- are peeing their pants, it isn’t much of a reach that they will be embarrassed to leave the house. They are afraid that they smell, and will ultimately avoid their favourite activity because it often makes them leak.
- feel weak and in pain, this affects their ability to carry out what they need to do in the day and reduces their confidence in caring for their child.
- have pain or pressure in their vagina, they tend to avoid intimacy and their relationship becomes strained. They have a hard time thinking of anything but the bulge they feel down there.
- are unable to participate in their favorite sport or activity, a part of them feels missing.
I am a firm believer that the physical changes that come from pregnancy and delivery, affect a new mom’s mental health.
Physical symptoms never occur in isolation. They always create some level of psychological symptoms, whether it is fear, anxiety, depression or anger. These feelings are a common part of coping with the stresses of being a new parent. When you add pregnancy, labour and delivery to the mix it makes it even more likely that the physical and emotional aspects will be linked.
3 areas where we can do better:
- Communication– Our body goes through major changes during pregnancy and then undergoes an injury during the process of delivery. The muscles that are injured are muscles that control our bowel and bladder, are involved with intimacy, support our organs, and are key components of our core. So… is it any wonder that they struggle to do their jobs after? Instead of explaining and preparing women for these common symptoms, they are often ‘swept under the carpet. This results in heightened fear and embarrassment for women.
- Guidance– When other areas of our body are injured, we rest, and then slowly add movement and strength back as our tissues heal. We do not do this with postpartum women. Instead of supporting the injured tissues and muscles by easing them back to activity, we ignore them. The early postpartum phase is not a time for intense activity, but it is a time to give some gentle focused attention to the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles that are struggling to heal but necessary for day to day function.
- Planning– We can’t expect the postpartum body to bounce back to the activities that are marketed to new moms like boot camps, return to run programs or HIIT right out of the starting gate. We need to encourage gradual progression from gentle early postpartum through to high intensity that helps progressively increase the load on the tissues and build a tolerance to activity.
I advocate for a proactive approach to pregnancy and postpartum. Just as we can be proactive with physical recovery, we can be proactive with mental health considerations.
Thankfully this subject is making its way into mom conversations because women need that.
I know I did.
Doing my part
To provide physical guidance and support to women, I have created Mommy Berries. Specifically, an online program that spoon-feeds moms only the need to know information in a time of stress, confusion and sleep deprivation.
The program covers:
- Gentle physical exercise that is safe to start in the early postpartum period. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
- Encourages 15 mins of dedicated “me time” in your day so that you can be there for everyone who needs you.
- Provides you with tools to feel strong and capable to physically manage your baby and older children.
- Helps you take control of your postpartum recovery.
- Feel empowered because you have a plan to return to the activities you love
- Understand you are not alone. Be part of a community of moms making their way through the program and supporting one another. I am there along the way.
Here is what one mom had to say about her experience with the Mommy Berries postpartum program.
“Being active has always been a huge part of my mental health and social lifestyle. After my C-section, I remember hearing all of the things I could not do. It was so helpful to have the Mommy Berries program to guide me through what I could do and give me control over my body. It provided me with safe guidelines so that I didn’t overdo it and it got me back to my active lifestyle.”
When you feel more confident physically, you feel more confident mentally.
In closing, I leave you with some simple things you can do today.
1. Recognize you aren’t alone.
I have found some excellent social media accounts that provide a safe place for moms to post their deepest secrets without judgement and can do so anonymously if preferred.
Beyond the Red Tent, (facebook)
2. Talk with someone you trust. It may surprise you how many people can relate. Your friends will probably be thankful you brought it up.
I would love to hear from you!
What resources are there in place in your community that help address postpartum darkness?
What ideas do you have for improving mental health support for postpartum women?
Please comment on this blog as your information will help another mom.