Postpartum mood disorder generally refers to depression, feelings of sadness, and anxiety, restless sensations, that occur after giving birth due to hormonal challenges and imbalances, the result of too much or not enough estrogen or progesterone.
In my experience with clients’ intrusive thoughts do occur, and they can be quite frightening for the mother.
Particularly scary thoughts reoccurring thoughts concern throwing the baby out a window or dropping the baby down a flight of stairs. Even if the thoughts are not quite that severe, they concern either hurting the baby or one’s own inability to parent.
I think the reasons that stop women from asking for help include stigma, access, and financial constraints. Also, some parents may think this state will be of short duration (which is not always the case), or that theycan handle the problem themselves. The stigma for mothers is a strong factor. You are supposed to be happy. You wanted they baby. Maybe you tried for years until you got pregnant. Now you feel as if you have betrayed yourself, your partner, and your parents. If you are not upbeat and giving every sign of being a fulfilled and happy mother, you have failed. I have one client now in her 60’s who had terrible post-partum depression as a young mother. She never told anyone about the cruel thoughts that would enter her mind. Now, when she babysits her grandchildren some of these thoughts return, no longer due to hormones, but because she was never able to talk about them or process them. Postpartum depression is often a family secret.
As a society there is a lot we can do in terms of educating women and couples. Rather than seeing postpartum as a mental health condition, unless the person already has a mental health diagnosis, and after the birth it becomes more severe, we can view postpartum as a hormonal imbalance made worse by stress and life-style issues. We need to educate pregnant women and their partners about health, stress, diet, exercise, and air to breathe. We need to teach communications, so anger does not overtake the relationship during a pregnancy. We need to teach partners to support each other and prepare for the life changes ahead.