What is Postpartum Stress?
Stress after having a baby can seem like a given, but what is Postpartum Stress Syndrome? Having the superhuman task of keeping a brand new human happy and thriving suddenly upon you can be a lot to handle. A certain level of stress postpartum is to be expected, but Postpartum Stress Syndrome has been defined as an emotional state “which falls between the relatively mild baby blues and the relatively severe postpartum depression” by the Postpartum Stress Centre.
Is it Normal To Experience It?
An important distinction here is to remember that just because something is common doesn’t mean that it’s “normal.” While there are many emotional adjustments to bringing a new baby home, there is a line that only your family can distinguish between what’s normal and what’s not. The biggest difference between a normal adjustment period and one where you perhaps need to look deeper is feeling like you never get a moment’s relief from coping with feelings of disappointment and not meeting expectations. These feelings are valid and very common, but when they don’t let up, it is an invitation to find ways to get more support.
Is Postpartum Stress the Same as Postpartum Anxiety or the Baby Blues?
Postpartum Stress Syndrome falls somewhere between postpartum anxiety and/or depression and the baby blues. While more severe than baby blues, which is usually defined as feeling sad, moody or cranky for a few days and up to 2 weeks after giving birth. Oftentimes, women are far too hard on themselves and have expectations that are not realistic when it comes to caring for themselves and a newborn baby. Caring for a newborn is no joke! Mothers, whenever possible, should be expected to do nothing else but care for the baby and rest. If this sounds entirely unrealistic to you, this is an invitation to reconsider postpartum expectations and wherever possible, seek support.
Postpartum Stress may be missed by the medical community because it is not as severe as postpartum anxiety or depression. Someone with postpartum stress will be coping and outsiders probably cannot tell that something is wrong. Postpartum stress manifests more like a constant, internal strain, disappointment, and pressure of failed expectations.
Symptoms of Postpartum Stress
“The phenomenon of postpartum stress syndrome is marked by feelings of self-doubt coupled with a deep desire to be a perfect mother.”
The symptoms of postnatal stress can vary widely depending on a woman’s circumstances and environment. Some compounding factors of postpartum stress are having a c-section, having children close together as well as marital and financial stress. If you feel like you are floundering in your role it’s always best to seek the support of someone you trust or of a trusted health care professional. If your expectations are not meeting your reality it can be time to both adjust your expectations (motherhood is much less glamorous than it’s made out to be) and ask for help. Since a defining factor in Postpartum Stress is managing things on the outside while feeling like you’re coming up short is that people may not be able to recognize that you need help. Don’t be afraid to reach out, no matter how small the ask.
What’s the Difference Between Postpartum Stress and Postpartum Depression
Postpartum stress is not as severe as postpartum depression (PPD). An important note is that if you suffer from postpartum stress it does not mean that you will suffer from postpartum depression. The two are not closely connected. Postpartum stress is less obvious in that you are managing most things decently well, but the inner feeling of disappointment is constant.
Postpartum depression is marked by symptoms like:
If you identify with any of the above seek the care of a healthcare professional. The screening tools available for postpartum depression will help identify PPD while Postpartum Stress, while real, will fall through the cracks of these screenings.
Tips to Deal with Postpartum Stress
The first step in dealing with Postpartum Stress is acknowledging it. This gives you permission to seek support and be easier on yourself.
- Get curious about your expectations. Who are you trying to please? Where did you pick up the belief that xyz had to be this way? Is it harmful to relax or change your expectation?
- Shift your perspective and focus on what you HAVE done. Did you change a diaper, great! Brush your teeth, gold star! Feed yourself, now that’s amazing. Especially in the early days and especially if you are breastfeeding, holding and feeding your baby is more than enough.
- How can you ask for more support? Is there family or friends that you could ask to bring a meal, do a load of laundry or do dishes?
- Be fully present for a few minutes with your partner and/or older children each day. Even a tiny block of time to be with them gives you a chance to reconnect.
- Move your body and get outside! Even opening a window to let fresh air in can dramatically help your mood.
- Choose a healthier food option when possible, nourishing yourself well is important
- Seek the support of a counselor, therapist or healthcare professional
Postpartum Stress is very real but something that you don’t have to suffer through. There are many tiny tweaks and supports that you can try to lift the burden of pressure off yourself. Be compassionate and kind to yourself as you figure out this motherhood journey. And when you need to hear it, remember that you’re doing a great job mama.
Motherhood is hard! Are you looking for more tips? Check out our Time Management Tips for New Moms if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your list of to-do’s and How Can Stress Impact Breastfeeding if you need tips on dealing with stress as a new mom!