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Therapy for New Moms

When I had my daughter in 2016, I quickly realized that despite taking all of the “steps” to prepare (baby care classes, CPR classes, books and extensive nesting) for motherhood, I was completely unprepared for the emotional toll and utter exhaustion that often come with motherhood. Not only is motherhood physically exhausting at times; it can be emotionally draining as well. The highs and love are often coupled with lows and uncertainty. And that is okay! Unfortunately, with social media and the interconnected nature of the internet, mothers are subject to (and often times bombarded with) unrealistic expectations and pressures that can leave mothers feeling ashamed or guilty for experiencing any emotions other than happiness during and after pregnancy.

I strongly believe there is a need to normalize the struggles of motherhood and reduce the stigma that surrounds perinatal (mother’s) mental health. Mothers should not have to be ashamed of their emotions or suffer silently.

What is perinatal mental health? Perinatal mental health is a term to describe the mother’s mental health during pregnancy and postpartum.

How many mothers experience baby blues? About 80% of women experience baby blues after birth.  Baby blues should resolve within a few weeks, and is not considered a disorder since the majority of mothers experience it (Bennett & Indam, 2015). But that does not mean baby blues should be ignored or a cause for shame in any way.

How many mothers experience postpartum mood and anxiety disorders? 

  • Depression and anxiety postpartum occurs in 15 to 20 percent of new mothers (Bennett & Indam, 2015).
  • About 9 percent of mothers experience postpartum OCD (Bennett & Indam, 2015).
  • About 10 percent of new mothers experience postpartum panic disorder (Bennett & Indam, 2015).
  • Postpartum psychosis occurs in about one or two per thousand perinatal women (Bennett & Indam, 2015).
  • PTSD occurs in about 6 percent of women, with rates up to 30 percent for parents who have had children in the ICU (Bennett & Indam, 2015).
  • Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are the most common complications during pregnancy and after birth. The good news is with professional help, these disorders are very treatable.

Signs that professional help would be useful to a mother: It is a great idea to seek professional counseling if you feel as though you cannot cope with the current symptoms you are experiencing. If you are feeling as though you cannot keep yourself or others safe, it is imperative that you call 911 and seek immediate professional help. If you feel as though you are having impairment in your functioning, trust your intuition and seek help. It is important to prioritize your mental health, as you need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your baby.

I also want to mention that even if the symptoms are manageable, it can be helpful to have a safe and nonjudgmental space to process the emotions that come with motherhood. Seeking help from a professional psychotherapist to discuss issues that come up during the adjustment to motherhood can be highly beneficial for every new parent.

My tips for finding a great therapist: Finding a therapist who is a good fit for you is vital! Many therapists have websites that provide an introduction to themselves and their treatment style. Many also offer complimentary consultations, which is a good time to feel the therapist out and decide if you are a good fit. If you are seeing a therapist for perinatal issues, it is a good idea to see a practitioner who has knowledge and first-hand experience working with perinatal women.

Current issues for patients and how they are addressed in my practice: A mother’s time is truly precious. I understand that, firsthand. When I decided to specialize in this field, I thought long and hard about convenience for new mothers. I realized that getting to a therapy appointment might cause more stress to the mother. With a little one to care for, the last thing an overloaded mother wants to (or can) do is take a few hours out of her day to drive to and from a therapy session. In response to this, I provide concierge style therapy for mothers, which takes the added stress of getting to an appointment out of the equation. I come to the mother, in her environment.

An additional service that I offer to mothers is psychotherapy while running/jogging/walking. I have found this to be helpful, as it takes the mother outside and can reduce feelings of isolation. Also, because we are in motion side-by-side as opposed to facing each other in an office, it can help the client feel more comfortable discussing vulnerable feelings.

Another barrier that I have noticed for mothers seeking professional help is the guilt and shame that can come along with acknowledging the feelings they are having. Unfortunately, our society assumes women should only be happy during pregnancy and after having a child. While this may be the case for a select few, most women feel a range of emotions that they have a hard time dealing with.

The societal expectation that motherhood equals happiness can leave a mother feeling confused and embarrassed to admit anything outside of that societal expectation.

These feelings or symptoms do not represent who the woman is as a person or a mother and it is important for a woman to recognize this. It can be liberating to ask for help and seek support from your community, inner circle or a professional. I always encourage women to treat themselves with the same compassion that they show others in their lives.

Emma Bennett is a licensed psychotherapist, LCSW #79627 and owner of . Emma graduated with a BS in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo in 2009, and received her Master In Social Work from University of Southern California in 2012. She is an active member of Postpartum Support International, and a student of the Postpartum Action Institute.

Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes and does not substitute for professional psychotherapy. Source for statistics: Bennett, S.S. & Indman, P. (2015) Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.  San Francisco, CA: Untreed Reeds, LLC.