One of the most frequent questions we get asked at Beyond the Baby Blues is what defines the distinction between baby blues and a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder or PMAD. The description that the women we see in our groups provide over and over of how they are feeling is that they don’t feel like themselves. When women experience baby blues – which approximately 80% of all new mothers do – they describe crying unexpectedly without knowing why they crying, feeling somewhat out of sorts, or not feeling on top of things (and who can feel on top of things in the first few weeks after having a baby?) – but these feelings taper off and go away within two to three weeks.
When unfamiliar feelings of sadness or anxiety or excessive worry persist beyond that time frame, that is a primary indication that a woman may have developed a PMAD. Sometimes women will be surprised by the thoughts or feelings they have, which can be so different from anything they anticipated or have experienced previously. And sometimes those unexpected and disturbing feelings can be frightening.
Most women anticipate that childbirth will be followed by great joy and enthusiasm. When that turns out not to be the case, negative feelings can become layered with other negative feelings. So, the situation becomes one of: “I’m feeling not at all how I anticipated I would feel AND I am feeling really bad about NOT feeling how I anticipated I would!” Layer that even more with how hard it can be to reach out for help and how easy it can be to unreasonably blame oneself for this situation even arising, and it’s no wonder that this complex of difficult feelings can lead to a (temporary) self a woman hardly recognizes.
The positive side of all of this is how treatable PMADS are and how fortunate we are to be in a community where help is easily accessed. If you or a friend is feeling emotionally very out of sorts, the MOMS Line based at Evanston Hospital – 1-866-364-6667 – provides 24/7 professionals who can listen and help women determine what next steps might be appropriate and follow that up with a list of therapists and medication prescribers that will be accepted by the caller’s insurance. They will probably also include information about support groups in your community, including the groups offered by Beyond the Baby Blues, to help women realize that they are very much not alone in their struggles.