The first time I was diagnosed with a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), I didn’t believe anything was wrong. Even though I was experiencing panic attacks, I still thought I was feeling extra sensitive. When I made an appointment with my doctor and explained my feelings, we agreed it must just be the stress of being a new mom. But it wasn’t—I was suffering. Looking back, I wasn’t being honest with myself about what was happening. When I was finally diagnosed, it was an education. I learned how not to fall into the traps of postpartum depression again and how to identify and deal with it early on.
How to see the signs of a problem
It’s important to be on the lookout for signs something is wrong. “The word postpartum depression, which falls under a PMAD, doesn’t fit the standard symptoms, and in fact “helps” women talk themselves out of seeking help. The most prevalent symptoms are anxiety. This presents differently in every woman, but the top ones are: rage, panic, anxiety, obsessive thinking, OCD behaviors, and ‘what if’ thoughts,” says Lisa Tremayne, RN, and Director of The Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, NJ. Other common issues to watch out for are—feeling incredibly sad, anxious, worried, or irritated, crying for seemingly no reason, lacking concentration, not getting sleep, and losing interest in things you love.
Admittedly, it’s tough to know the difference between stress and PMAD, and worrying about it can only make it feel more stressful. But a way to tell if it is a PMAD is if you’re suffering from any of these symptoms for two weeks or longer. Stress will come and go here and there, but a PMAD is more consistent, so keep an eye on it. Try jotting down how you feel each day and for how long to track your emotions and share this record with your doctor.
The RWJBarnabas Health Center For Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders also suggests taking the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale test for a clearer idea of how you’re feeling. If you have any of these symptoms and worry about stress or a PMAD, make an appointment with your physician and talk to them about how you feel. You can also visit a medical center that focuses on helping mothers with their well-being and mental health.
Find rest when you can
During my experience with postpartum depression, the worst part was not getting enough sleep. The lack of sleep made the days more difficult and put me on a cycle of feeling down that continued for weeks. Rest is so important to give you energy for the next day. Sleep also helps you heal, emotionally and physically, from the day you’ve just been through. And though it seems obvious, the best way to get sleep is when your baby sleeps. Turn off the phone, let the laundry sit, and resist the feeling of doing something—this is the most important thing you can do to cope and break the stress cycle.
Give yourself some love
Juggling feedings, sleep schedules, and crying fits, is a lot for any new mom. But before you can take care of your newborn, you should make sure you’re also taking care of yourself. Do you know how they say you should put on the oxygen before you help your child? The same applies here—practicing self-care will give you the energy to be the mother you can want to be. Eating well, drinking plenty of water, and even taking a walk around the block with the baby in a stroller can make you feel good. It’s also essential to take a break when you need one. Having your partner take over, even if it’s just for 15 minutes to take a shower or practice a few restorative yoga poses, can help you maintain a sense of calm in your day.
Find your ‘new mom’ support system
Even if you don’t feel like you’re suffering from significant symptoms, but you’re worried something might be going on, check in with your doctor. She can recommend a specialist, group support, and a PMAD screening center. And though in-person support is on hold right now, there is online support —groups run by professionals to help you learn the tools to cope and meet other moms who feel the same. Remember, as a new mother, you’re not alone in this journey, and there are people around you to support and help you any way you need it.