What Causes Postpartum Depression and Anxiety?
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood involve immense physiological changes that often leave our bodies and brains reeling.
Hormones shift wildly and plummet rapidly as our physiology adjusts to meet the needs of the embryo, fetus or baby whose life we are physically sustaining. These dramatic bodily changes feel foreign and unsettling.
When we encounter real or perceived threats to our safety during pregnancy, birth or postpartum, our nervous systems respond by going into a protective fight, flight or freeze mode. Many people receive medical interventions that support survival but short-circuit our natural recovery process and create physiological challenges that manifest later as pain. Stress prompts our bodies to initiate inflammatory stress responses that help us survive, but also interfere with our longer-term physical and emotional health.
Depression and anxiety can both cause and be caused by stress (read more here). Restoring our biology to equilibrium takes time and deliberate effort. Practitioners who are informed about Perinatal Mental Health can support you in addressing underlying factors that may be delaying your return to health. Sleep, psychotherapy, meditation, supplements, good nutrition, exercise, body work, social support and sometimes medication, can all help to restore balance. We can all heal.
Like infancy -- trying to conceive, being pregnant, giving birth and being a new parent are all times of great vulnerability. We are less able to defend ourselves. We are reliant on the kindness and care of others. As we move through this reproductive phase of life, our nervous system re-encounters the emotional tone of our formative experience of vulnerability and dependence. If a new parent wasn't well nurtured and cared for when they were young, they will likely uncover deep, historic pain that shows up now in uncomfortable or confusing ways.
Sleep deprivation exacerbates all suffering. Having a high-needs baby, inadequate social support, returning to work too soon, a history of abuse or trauma (from pregnancy, birth or earlier in life), and current life stressors -- like integrating other children, having an unsupportive partner, health or financial concerns -- all create significant challenges during the perinatal period that may result in a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD). And sometimes people with no risk factors at all develop a PMAD.
Coming to understand what's causing emotional pain can help new parents stop blaming themselves and begin to trust themselves.
This is not your fault. Support and recovery are available.
You can heal.