Many first-time mothers are baffled when they find their new life with baby doesn’t match up to the myths of motherhood. We are led to believe that having a baby should be a glorious, magical time. We are taught not only that we will but that we must bond immediately with our babies. We believe in the images of mother and father standing over their baby’s crib holding each other close and smiling with glee, and we assume we will have the same experience.

But the reality is often a bit more raw. Reality may include fear, exhaustion, confusion and self-doubt. It may involve a high-needs’ baby, breast-feeding challenges, marital adjustments, isolation, or other life stressors.

When a woman has a family or personal history of depression or anxiety in addition to hormonal shifts, sleep deprivation, and a less than perfect experience as a new mother, she may be thrown into an unexpected state of irritation, depression, anxiety or obsessive/compulsive behavior. It can be a time of confusion and increased self-doubt, leaving her wondering, “What is wrong with me?”

10-20% of pregnant women will experience postpartum depression or anxiety. The good news is that it is incredibly treatable. For mild depression or anxiety, support, exercise, healthy eating, and a moderate amount of sleep may be all it takes for a mother to feel like herself again. For moderate to severe depression or anxiety, an individualized combination of self-care, therapy and medication has proven to resolve even the most challenging postpartum adjustment issues.

During pregnancy, if a woman knows she has a family or personal history of depression or anxiety, if there are actual or anticipated life stressors during pregnancy or the first year postpartum, or if she has minimal amount of support in her life, she can shore up resources and support during pregnancy to minimize the possibility of postpartum depression.The greatest gift a mother can give to her baby is to feel good about being a mom. The greatest gift she can give to herself is the support and self-care she needs to make that her reality.

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Nancy Goodman, LCSW
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