Health Matters: Post-Partum Depression in the COVID-19 Era
Many things can be put off until after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, important things like weddings and funerals. But not childbirth. When it’s time for a baby to be born, there’s no delaying it.
In our local hospital, mothers in labor may be accompanied by one person. For some, this is not a burden; for others, it’s heartbreaking to have to tell mothers, sisters, and/or best friends they may not attend the birth. Once babies are born and new mothers are ready to go home, challenges continue. At a time when women traditionally wrap their collective arms around a new mother, welcoming her into the fold and teaching her how to navigate unfamiliar waters, we are told to stay away and leave the new mother at home, alone; or if absolutely necessary, to stay six feet away, not to cuddle the baby while the new mother naps or showers. This leaves new mothers isolated when they are physically and emotionally vulnerable.
In the best of times, the two weeks after childbirth can be hard for mothers, especially first-time mothers. There is a massive hormonal shift. All the feel-good hormones of pregnancy are gone, and new mothers are left with the fatigue and worry that come with having a newborn. This is often referred to as the baby blues. Mothers cry easily. They feel drained and disconnected and sometimes confused about how they’re feeling. Movies and TV would have you believe that motherhood is blissful, that the moment you see your baby you are struck by such an overwhelming sense of love that you’d lay down your life for this tiny human. Sometimes, this is how it goes. Other times, mothers (and fathers) need a little time to adjust. Their love grows more slowly.
Usually, after the first few weeks, these feelings of sorrow and anxiety slowly decrease, but for 10-15 percent of women, they don’t. These women experience post-partum depression with symptoms that can include insomnia, loss of appetite, intense irritability, and difficulty bonding with the baby. Although it’s referred to as post-partum depression, it might be better named post-partum anxiety and depression, because anxiety often plays a huge role.
It can hit women the first time they become mothers, but it might not hit until the second, third or fourth baby. Usually, it becomes apparent after the first few weeks, but sometimes mothers feel fine for the first few weeks and then post-partum feelings develop after two or three months. Like many conditions, symptoms vary. The important thing is to recognize them so you can do something about them.
I’m a firm believer in the old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Mothers are often the emotional centers of their families, the solid foundations everyone else builds on. So, it is essential for the health of the mother, the baby, and all family members that mama gets help. Post-partum depression interferes with the mother’s ability to bond with her baby, and her ability to connect with everyone else in the family.
Thankfully, help is available. At Care for Her, we offer a variety of effective treatments, from support groups where mothers can help each other work through challenges and normalize their feelings, to counseling with experienced therapists, to medication (which is safe for mothers who choose to breastfeed) that can lift your mood enough so you can form a healthy bond with your baby. The mother-baby bonding that occurs in the first year of the baby’s life can set the path for that baby’s whole future. A securely attached baby learns how to have a healthy sense of self and how to be in a loving, empathetic relationship, which becomes a model for all future relationships.
Although not everyone needs medication, it is important to understand that using medication safely under the guidance of a healthcare provider can be the best gift you can give herself and your baby. This is not a time to soldier on, to grit your teeth and bear it. This is a time to check in with a medical provider and be honest about how you’re feeling so you can be at your best for you and your baby.
Cayo Alba is a certified nurse midwife at Care for Her, a service of MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.