Postpartum Depression

October 9, 2012

First, let me get this out of the way. There is technically no disorder called Postpartum Depression, at least in the DSM which is the manual used to diagnose mental health disorders. It is actually Major Depressive Disorde with Postpartum Onset, but since that is long and everyone knows it by Postpartum Depression, I will be using that or PPD for short.

PPD is a mental health disorder in which a woman becomes clinically depressed within one year of childbirth. It may be hard for some people to tell the difference at first between typical baby blues and PPD. PPD is characterized by feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, mood swings, changes in appetite and sleeping, loss of interests and loss of energy. You may also experience anxiety, tearfulness, feelings of vulnerability, irritability, and feel disconnected from your baby but these are also symptoms of the baby blues.  You do not have to have all symptoms but would need to be experiencing some of these symptoms and they must last for over 3 weeks.  Some of the differences are that the baby blues will start a few days to one month after childbirth instead of anytime during the first year, and will last less than 3 weeks. There is also differences in severity, the first list of symptoms are not as likely with the baby blues.

Women who have a history of depression, meaning that they have already experienced a depressive episode in the past are much more likely to experience PPD. Other factors that could increase your risk of PPD are low self-esteem, history of anxiety, lack of social support, history of eating disorders, and a family history of depression. If you have experienced any of these you may want to look into taking precautions to reduce your risk of PPD. I will provide a list in upcoming blog entries with things you can do to reduce your risk but one thing that I have already mentioned is increasing your support such as through a group as the pregnancy support group that I started.

Some of the possible effects of experiencing PPD for mom and the baby include a feeling of detachment and being disconnected as mom is not as interested in taking care of the baby and may shy away from her responsibilities or just be unable to perform them during this time. This can effect the bond of mom and baby, although it can always be recovered later. It will also increase the amount of stress and anxiety the baby feels, will increase crying, will make it more difficult for the baby to self-regulate and self-soothe themselves, and they are likely to show signs of decreased social engagement. A woman’s milk supply can also be effected negatively. As I stated already, once a person experiences depression they are more likely to have another episode in the future and this applies to when a woman experiences PPD.

If you are experiencing PPD, there are two therapies available, medication and counseling/therapy. I’m no expert on medication so you would need to weigh the pros and cons out with your doctor and decide on an individual basis about whether medication will be right for you. Whether you take medication or not, however, counseling is a good idea. A therapist can help you identify thinking patterns and behaviors that might be able to be changed in order to alleviate the symptoms of your depression and end the depressive episode.


Single Mother of Babies- Overcoming the Difficulties

August 22, 2011

         As I posted about last week, I contributed to an article that was launched last week regarding the difficulties of being a single mother to a baby. I would like to include more of my thoughts on this subject at this time, as not all were included in the article Going It Alone: Overcoming the Challenges of Single Parenting by Shannon Philpott.

         There are many challenges that come with being a single parent, especially with being a single parent to a baby. However, I want to say that not all single mothers experience increased difficulty and some may even prefer to parent this way. All new mothers experience a loss of freedom but single mothers may experience less help and support on a daily basis due to not having a father in the household. On the other hand, if the mother has a good support system with other family members and friends, it is possible that she will receive much of this support and possibly even more so than the father could provide. Having less support, however, puts the new mother at greater risk to feel resentment towards her baby. If she is not a single parent by choice or expected to have help from the father, she may be feeling anger, sadness, and resentment towards the father as well, and the baby is often seen as an extension of the father, again possibly increasing resentful feelings towards the baby.

        A single mother may also need to go back to work sooner than she wants to due to having to provide for the baby. A working mother is less likely to be able to continue breastfeeding due to having to be away from the baby. For some mothers, not being able to breastfeed as often could also be a drawback. Single mothers may also feel increased stress due to having to find childcare, work, and care for the baby as well as feeling guilt for not spending the time that she would like to with the baby. All of these factors could interfere with creating a bond with the baby and/or cause the mother to feel more guilt and put her at higher risk for postpartum blues or depression.

         Luckily, being a single mother or parent does not doom a parent to a lifetime of stress and a low bond with their child. These are only possibilities in this scenario and some mothers actually fair very positively. Part of this is due to everyone having different strengths, supports, and thresholds. Some things that you can do to increase the likelihood that you are not as negatively affected by being a single parent is finding support from whatever positive sources you can find. As I stated in the article, this may be from church, family, friends, neighbors, mothers groups as well as other sources. It is also essential to find time for relaxation and de-stressing. A good way to do this is to commit to getting exercise outside with the baby. Not only is it good for you to get outside for fresh air and to exercise, but babies tend to enjoy being outside as well. Also, it is important for mother’s to realize that quality time has a bigger impact with their child than the quantity of time, so when you are with your baby, make sure you make the most of the time.

        Overall, as stated in the article, it is essential to accept that your life is now different than it was pre-baby. Instead of dwelling on how much more difficult your life is now, be sure to focus on all the positives that being a parent brings to your life and the joy and wonder you share with your baby.

Happy Mommy, Happy Baby

February 17, 2011

Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A.      Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County

      I have to admit that I subscribe to more than one parenting magazine. As I picked up one of the magazines recently, I noticed a headline on the cover stating “The #1 Secret to a Happy Baby”. This intrigued me right away as I began to think of what I believed to be the biggest factor for a happy baby. I found the page with the article and discovered that this magazine states that the baby’s routine is the biggest secret to a happy baby. I do agree that a routine is important (if you have not already, you can read my blog article “Schedule VS. On Demand for Infants”) and actually found that the article reiterated much of the same information that I had discussed in my past blog article on the same topic.

      Although some parents who are eager to have someone tell them what to do may think that the article is stating that creating a routine is what will make you happy, they are really stating that it is finding the right type of routine for you and your baby that will make you happy. I would like to broaden this statement. It is my belief that a happy mom (or other caregiver) makes a happy baby. Although I have not looked for research to back me up on this, the rationale is as follows. We have all heard and probably experienced that babies are very good at picking up on others emotions and often share in those emotions. For instance, many people have noticed that as they begin experiencing a negative emotion, the baby becomes upset and begins to cry. Although I cannot explain how babies sense others emotions, this is an important skill while they are learning about the world around them. Baby knows that they are new in this world and look to their caregivers for clues on what is going on and how to feel. Although we notice how negative emotions affect baby’s most often, our positive emotions also rub off on baby just as much.

      When mom or dad is happy, they send signals to their child who imitates some of these behaviors. Baby enjoys having mom or dad smile, coo, and play with them which happens more frequently when a parent is happy and is more genuine. This extra attention helps them to feel that they are loved and cared for which helps in giving them a feeling of security and also stimulates them mentally.

      As far as how a routine might be able to make your baby happy, children in general do thrive when being on a schedule, but again, you must make sure that the schedule works for you, baby and the rest of the family and has enough flexibility to be able to accommodate changes instead of variations increasing levels of stress. This is something that you must learn on your own, and cannot be told to you by any baby “expert” or “friend” on facebook.

      If you are in the Brevad County area and in the market for a therapist, please give me a call.

Show Them Whose Boss

February 12, 2011

Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A. Rockledge, FL
321-631-5538 Serving Brevard County

         I heard a story recently where a new mother was visiting with her friend and ignored the cries of her newborn. The friend was surprised about the mother’s inaction and stated that it was alright, she would wait while the mom tended to her newborn. The mother’s response: That’s okay, we were told we should allow our baby to cry in order to show her that we are the ones in charge. You bet that shocked the friend, and it sure appalled me when I heard this.

           It seems as though in today’s society some people are so afraid of spoiling their children that they actually create bigger problems. Our goal as parents should be to raise our children to be well adjusted, secure, intelligent individuals. In order to do so, we need to give them a solid foundation when they are infants.

            Although it may seem as though there is not a whole lot going on with babies in their first year of life, this is actually a time of rapid growth and learning. A baby’s brain is developing at enormous speeds and they are able to process more than we realize. The more love and attention you give your baby, the more baby is stimulated, and the stronger the connections within the brain. This is precisely what is needed for baby to reach his/her highest brain power potential.

           In addition to affecting brain growth, the way in which parents respond to their baby’s needs determines how free they feel to explore their environment. It has been found that there are four different styles of attachment that can develop in children based on their relationship with their primary caregiver(s): secure, anxious-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, and disorganized. Which style a child develops is largely based on their caregiver’s treatment of the child. When a parent consistently meets the needs of a child, the child learns to trust in the caregiver and feels secure in being able to explore their environment, which helps them to learn more about the world around them.

          The type of attachment a child develops with their caregiver becomes a prototype for the way they will engage with others throughout life. The child who develops a secure attachment learns that they can trust others without needing them. They are able to find other people who are well adjusted and create and maintain healthy relationships with them. In addition, parents are not likely to change their parenting habits, so if the parent learns to listen to their child early on, the child will follow suit and be more likely to listen to the parent as the child gets older.

          The foundation for all of this is set in baby’s first year of life by responding to their cries and attending to their needs. Of course development is ongoing and other life events can and will influence a child’s development, but why not give your baby the start they need by simply showing them how much you love them!

           If you are in the Central Brevard County area and looking for a therapist/counselor, please contact me to learn more about my services offered.

Schedule VS. On Demand for Infants

February 8, 2011

Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A.      Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County

            Should you put your baby on a schedule for when they will be eating, sleeping, and playing? This is one of those topics that “baby experts” have strong opinions on and typically they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Some say it is best to have baby on a strict schedule, and others say feed baby on demand. I believe the best answer is actually not either of the extremes, but is somewhere in the middle.
            If you think about it, the majority of people function best on a schedule. We go to bed around the same time, eat around the same time, and do many other things at the same time each day. It helps us to stay organized and lends some predictability to our day. Keeping a flexible schedule for your baby will do the same thing for him/her.

Stay Flexible

            No matter which type of schedule you put baby on, it is important to remember to be flexible. Although it is helpful for baby to be on a schedule, there are always variations in the way our day unfolds. For instance, your baby will not always take the same length nap, and there may be reasons for your baby to be more or less hungry. We cannot force anyone, let alone a baby, to eat or sleep when they are not tired or hungry (or even sometimes when they are). Trying to do so will only frustrate you. More importantly, however, is making sure your baby gets enough food and sleep based on their individual needs for brain and overall growth.

Mental Health Benefits

            You should learn your child’s cues for hunger and fatigue and respond to them appropriately. If your child is acting hungry and it is not time for them to eat based on your schedule, still try to feed him/her. Babies go through growth spurts and you do not want to make your baby uncomfortable. As for the mental health benefits of listening to your baby’s cues, it can help your baby build self-confidence. As you accurately respond to your baby’s cues, you will increase your baby’s level of trust in you to take care of those needs and trust in him/herself in order to communicate what those needs are. Feeding your baby when they are hungry has also been shown to reduce stress. Although we are not aware of these early lessons we learn while babies, they help shape who we become as adults.

If you are in the Brevard County area and are looking for a counselor, please contact me. I would be happy to talk to you about the services I offer and would look forward to working with you.