Beyond The Baby Blues: How To Navigate Your Postpartum Emotions

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You probably know that pregnancy is a time of hormone fluctuations and adjustment to life changes. Yet, few people recognize that women's bodies continue to shift and change for at least a full year after birth.

"The hormonal changes during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum can impact mood and anxiety ," says Wendy Corriveau, a nurse practitioner and behavioral health specialist at Henry Ford Health System. Add sleepless nights, fussy babies and COVID-19-related anxiety to the mix, and many new moms feel like they're riding an emotional roller coaster.

Postpartum Emotions Under A Microscope

Whether you're delivering your first child or adding to a large family, delivering a new baby requires adjustment. Not only are you forced to navigate visible physical changes, but you may also experience complex emotions.

"Around 85% of moms deal with some sort of mood disturbance related to pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period," Corriveau says. "The stressors that everyone is experiencing right now also contribute to emotional upheaval. There is so much going on in the world that is putting people a little on edge."

You may be at even greater risk of developing postpartum emotional challenges if:

  • You have a previous mental illness, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • You're socially isolated or have limited social support.
  • You've suffered from postpartum depression in the past.

Breaking Down Postpartum Emotions

After your baby is born, your healthcare provider will closely monitor you for signs of postpartum depression, but that isn't the only emotion women face after they have a baby.

Women may experience a complex mix of feelings that shift without warning. They can range from sadness, fear, anger, joy, doubt and hypersensitivity. This can happen in response to changing hormone levels, insufficient sleep and lack of self-nurturing.

“We recognize that emotional changes in response to life situations are completely normal,” Corriveau says. "It is important to recognize when the emotions are not an appropriate response and when a woman should reach out for help."

When To Get Help

If you begin to lose interest in activities that used to give you pleasure, experience irrational or suicidal thoughts or behaviors, or if you're unable to attach and bond with your baby, it's time to seek medical treatment.

The most telling factor: functional ability. "When your emotions begin to impact your ability to function, that's a big red flag," Corriveau says.

Managing Postpartum Emotions

Post-pregnancy emotions come in a full range of shapes and sizes.

In addition to seeking medical assistance if you need it, there are things women can do to work through complex mood swings:

  • Get moving. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can help steady complex emotions.
  • Nourish your body. Postpartum women, especially those who are nursing, require more calories and energy. Make sure you're eating a healthful diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Take a nap. Most new moms aren't getting enough sleep. Try to sneak in some shut-eye while your baby snoozes. 
  • Get some fresh air. Getting outdoors in the fresh air can do wonders for a troubled psyche. Take a time out from everything and get outside.

A new baby adds another layer of chaos to an already tumultuous time. The good news: There are plenty of resources available to help new moms. Behavioral health providers and therapists are essential frontline workers during the pandemic — and most of them are offering virtual services.

Not sure where to start? Postpartum Support International provides a list of providers who specialize in maternal/child health. They also have several online support groups.

"Whatever we can do to bring about a sense of calm during the postpartum adjustment and help a mom feel more like herself, that’s the first line," Corriveau says. "Mom's state of well-being is the most important thing."

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To find a doctor, therapist or certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936)

Wendy Corriveau is a nurse practitioner and behavioral health specialist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Ford Road in Dearborn.

Categories: FeelWell