Pregnancy and postpartum offer a host of opportunities to practice anxiety work. The hormones that rage through us can often lead to unpleasant mood swings. Then there is the transformation of our body into a home for two. Finally, we become a feeding machine and are convinced to return to “life as normal”. It’s no wonder women feel vulnerable and overwhelmed by this experience. I’ve helped women going through infertility treatments and those suffering with undiagnosed postpartum OCD. It is my hope that I can help them understand why they are suffering and what they can do about it.
So how can we help our clients and their families who are on this journey and may be experiencing pregnancy or postpartum anxiety? As always, I think providing information about this process so they have facts not fears is crucial. An example of this might be to let them know that they will continue to experience the effects of pregnancy hormones for up to 6 months after they stop breastfeeding.
Another important piece is to validate their feelings and listen. You can provide them with skills to respond in a healthy way to these feelings. Instead of believing they are “crazy” because of how they are feeling, you might help them say, “I am filled with hormones that make me feel crazy but I am going to be kind to myself today and know that this is a temporary experience.” Challenging automatic negative thoughts and beliefs with rational and compassionate self-talk can begin to shift their experience. Learning how to embrace their fears rather than avoid them will also help get them back in the driver’s seat.
Creating a support system that understands anxiety can provide a helpful cushion. I bring family and friends into session and teach them how to recognize anxiety and encourage their loved one in a way that validates their experience but doesn’t get them tangled up in their fears. As the pregnancy progresses, we develop a plan on how to support her through the birth and postpartum. Sleep is a crucial part of this so having a plan on who can wake up at night with the baby so the parents get sleep can prevent bigger problems from happening. Be sure to have a check- in soon after the birth and for several months after so that you can stay on top of postpartum depression and anxiety.
Finally, remember that partners can also experience anxiety and depression during and after a pregnancy. If they are struggling, it can be difficult for them to be helpful. This is another reason it is important to include them in your sessions so you can be aware of any difficulties they are having and get them the support they need.
Some great resources that I use with my clients going through pregnancy and postpartum are: Postpartum hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS
You Tube Video: I PPD So Hard
Website: Post Partum Support International https://www.postpartum.net/
For more information on Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety watch our webinar: Identifying and Helping Mother’s with Anxiety