Think you might be experiencing a PMAD? Ask yourself this one question.
Holly Kennedy, LPC, PMH-C & Ellen Jones, M.Ed., PMH-C
Co-Founders, Mother Tree Wellness
Mother Tree Wellness is a maternal wellness coaching practice helping you find more ease, confidence, and joy in the daily ups and downs of your motherhood journey. Our offerings are virtual, which means we get to work with clients all over the world. Connect with us on Instagram at @mothertreemoms or at our website: www.mtwcoaching.com.
The instant your baby is born, you enter a completely new and unknown reality. As you look around, a lot of this new world probably looks different from what you’d expected. It’s disorienting, and confusing, and magical, and awe-inspiring, and messy. You’re a new version of yourself performing a new role with a new human you’ve just met, so if you’re not sure what it’s going to look like or how you’re going to feel about it all, that makes sense.
You are not alone. We felt this intensely as new moms ourselves, and we hear about the ups, downs, and all-arounds from our clients every day. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to reach out for support for your mental, physical or emotional well-being, here’s one important question you can ask yourself:
Would I like to feel differently than I do right now?
You don’t need to meet any criteria. You don’t need to check any boxes. You don’t even need to know how to verbalize what you’re experiencing. If you don’t feel like yourself and you’d like to feel better, tell someone.
…and if you aren’t met with support and resources, tell someone else. Advocating for yourself when you’re not feeling like yourself is incredibly difficult, and it’s the most important step to getting the support you deserve.
We know how empowering information can be during this brand new season of life, so we’d love to share with you a few Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) basics and some lesser known facts so you can feel better equipped to recognize and respond to PMADs in yourself or your loved ones.
PMADs: The Basics
PMADs are groups of symptoms that make it hard to enjoy life or function well (The Motherhood Center). PMADs impact around 1 in 5 moms and 1 in 10 dads, and research shows that they can begin during pregnancy and last for around 3 years after a baby is born.
Though we commonly think of PMADs as Perinatal Depression and Anxiety (PPD/A), there’s a much bigger spectrum in this category of diagnoses (scroll down for a resource to see the full list). Today we’d like to highlight one that we see often in our moms, especially those who gave birth during the pandemic: Perinatal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD), often brought on by a frightening birth experience. Again, your birth experience doesn’t need to meet any criteria or check any boxes to be considered frightening or traumatic. All that matters is whether it was scary to you.
The Baby Blues, or the emotional ups and downs of the first two or so weeks of motherhood, impact at least 80% of new moms and aren’t considered a PMAD. They’re an expected stage in your body’s adjustment to its new state. If that extreme emotional rollercoaster lasts longer than two weeks and it’s getting in the way of your everyday functioning, speak up for help.
PMADs: Lesser Known Risk Factors
Certain factors – biological, psychological, and environmental – can put some people at higher risk for developing PMADs. Some of those lesser known risk factors include: Lack of social support, perfectionist tendencies, unrealized expectations around birth or motherhood, being a person of color, changes in thyroid, difficult pregnancy or delivery, severe PMS, and history of anxiety or depression. If you check the full list and find that you’re at higher risk for developing PMADs, you can use that awareness to build in some protective factors for your early motherhood journey.
PMADs: Protective Factors
Building in some protective factors on the front end (or whenever you’re able) can help soften your transition into motherhood.
From research and from our work with moms, we know that the importance of sleep really cannot be overstated. You might have been told to expect less sleep, but that message is sometimes delivered in a flippant or jokey way (as in, “Sleep now, because once baby is born you’ll never sleep again!”).
Sleep deprivation can contribute to a heightened stress response, and an increase in anxiety and depression. Generally it’s recommended that you get 5-6 hours of continuous sleep for your brain and body to restore themselves, which might not be feasible in those first few months. You’ll be living on a 24-hr cycle for a while, and it’s not easy to figure out where those chunks of sleep are supposed to materialize. This is where it’s so crucial to ask for help from your support people to help you create the space for you to sleep. If you’re not feeling like yourself and you’re not sure where to start, sleep can be the first thing to prioritze – ask for support in making rest a priority.
We are not wired to mother alone. Engaging your support system and making connections with other moms is one of the best protective factors we have in easing the transition into motherhood. We know connecting with others requires energy and might look different with a baby in tow, and we also know from research and from observing moms in our work that it’s incredibly important and highly effective in easing the transition into motherhood.
If you think you might be experiencing a PMAD, we want you to hear this message from Postpartum Support International: You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well. Help can come in many forms: Talk therapy, medication, and social support are considered the three most effective tools we have to address PMADs. Each person’s path to healing looks different, and you may find that one, two, or all of these tools are helpful for you along the way.
Motherhood isn’t hard because you’re doing it wrong – it’s hard because it’s hard. You are exactly the right mom for your baby, and you deserve to feel like it!
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For a deeper dive into any of these topics and a starting point to connect with the help you deserve, check out Postpartum Support Virginia at postpartumva.org or Postpartum Support International at postpartumsupport.net. Both of these sites contain a wealth of information on PMADs, as well as details on group and individual support opportunities.
As advocates for maternal wellness, we’re really passionate about sharing this information with you. Please note that we’re sharing these facts for informational purposes only, and they’re not to be taken as medical advice or psychotherapy.