Beating Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

New group offers support, guidance for parents

mother and baby

Nobody ever said parenting is easy, but parenting a new baby can be especially challenging. You're not only adjusting to new roles, new routines and new relationship dynamics, but you're doing it on little or no sleep and while recovering from a grueling physical event.

For some parents, these challenges are made even more difficult by postpartum depression or anxiety. To address these issues, social workers in Columbia have organized a new support group for parents who are struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety.

"I know helping parents address their mental health leads to better attachment with their children and, consequently, better child mental health. I know we can really make a difference with this outreach, and I am truly grateful to be a part of it," said Missouri Psychiatric Center Patient & Family Services Manager Beth Orns, MSW, LCSW.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Not all feelings of sadness indicate postpartum depression. Many new mothers experience the so-called baby blues a few days of delivery — usually day 3 or 4.

Symptoms include:

  • Changes in mood
  • Irritability
  • Sadness and tearfulness
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite

These symptoms can last for as little as a few hours or as long as several days, but they tend to go away on their own.

Postpartum depression is different. It typically starts in the first six weeks after childbirth, but it can begin any time during the first year of the baby's life.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Guilt
  • Not feeling bonded to baby
  • Confusion
  • Irritability and anger
  • Feelings of emptiness and numbness
  • Deep sadness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite

Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression doesn't go away quickly. If these feelings stick around for two or more weeks, it might be postpartum depression.

When is it Postpartum Anxiety or OCD?

Postpartum anxiety and OCD don't get as much attention as postpartum depression, but they affect approximately one out of every six women after childbirth.

Symptoms include:

  • Racing thoughts and constant worrying
  • The need to be doing something at all times
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to eat
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Disturbing thoughts and sense of dread
  • Being afraid to be alone with the baby because of scary thoughts
  • Worry you might harm the baby
  • The need to check things constantly
  • Physical symptoms such as stomach cramps, headaches, shakiness, nausea and, in some cases, panic attacks

How to Get Help

"Postponing treatment can negatively impact the parent-child bond. If a parent's anxiety is keeping them from enjoying their baby or leaving their home, they should seek help," Orns said.

Many women who experience postpartum depression or anxiety benefit from seeing a counselor or social worker. Additionally, your OB-GYN, primary care provider or psychiatrist can help decide whether medication is a good option.

Confiding in and seeking encouragement from family and friends also can be helpful. Other options include support groups — either online or in the community — or calling the regional mental health crisis hotline at 1-800-395-2132.

Taking Care of Yourself

Although caring for your baby might by your primary concern during this time, self-care is especially important. In addition to making time to eat healthful foods, exercise and sleep, taking breaks to relax and for activities you enjoy can make a big difference.

The Postpartum Depression or Anxiety Support Group meets 6 - 7:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month in the conference room at South Providence Medical Park. For more information, contact Beth Orns at 573-884-1124 or ornse@health.missouri.edu.