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Share Your PPD Story and Find Your Breakthrough, Mama

In this guest post from mom, parent coach and mental health therapist, Anese Barnett, she shares her battle with PPD and ways to combat maternal mental health issues.

I’m a mental health therapist and advocate for maternal mental health. As a mom to a NICU warrior
who is now a 15 month old curious and exuberant little boy, I’m no stranger to the maternal mental
health issues I strive to highlight in my work. Two months after giving birth, I was confronted with
intrusive and scary thoughts about the baby I deeply loved. Intrusive thoughts are unwelcomed,
involuntary, and unpleasant thoughts that may turn into obsessions. This is a common symptom of
Postpartum Depression (PPD), which impacts how mothers bond and engage with their baby. PPD
can also cause intense guilt and shame, anger, anxiety, neglectful parenting, and difficulty with
sleeping and eating. In my case, some of these symptoms were also present during my pregnancy
which is true for 20% of women.

Postpartum Support International (PSI) reports that 1 in 7 women will experience PPD within a year
after giving birth. Black mothers comprise nearly 13% of women diagnosed but only about 4% will
seek treatment for symptoms. This means that as Black women, we are at higher risk for poor
mental health outcomes and poor attachment to our babies.

It’s critical we begin to share our stories and encourage one another to seek support. As we become
vulnerable and share, we help to diminish the “the strong Black woman” ethos that keeps many of us
from seeking and accepting help. If you notice that you or a loved one experiences the
aforementioned symptoms for longer than two weeks, it’s definitely time to call your OBGYN or a
perinatal mental health therapist. Although therapy and antidepressants are cited as the most
effective forms of treatment, there are additional ways to manage “baby blues” and postpartum

Support – Depression is often characterized by feeling isolated and withdrawing from others. It feels
natural to retreat as you are inundated with new responsibilities. Seeking support by talking with
others can help you to regulate depression. Joining support groups with new moms helps you
minimize feelings of loneliness and talking with experienced moms who have overcome PPD offer
hope and insight. Hope is a critical tool in overcoming depression. During the coronavirus pandemic
you can find an online support group through Postpartum Support International (PSI), Support Group
Central’s website, and Raising Resilience on Instagram who offers groups targeted to Black women.

Rest – Every mother has heard, “sleep when baby sleeps”. This is great and even vital advice, but it
may feel impossible to do as many mother’s report anxious thoughts about their baby. Sleep
deprivation is a common experience in early motherhood as new moms wake every 2-4 hours to
feed and comfort baby. Sleep is critical to maintaining your immune system and reducing your risk
for depression. So if you’re feeling anxious about sleeping when the baby is down, it’s time to
collaborate with your support system. Identify and schedule times that they are available to keep an
eye on the baby or complete household chores to give you time to rest.

Exercise – Research has shown that exercise can decrease depressive feelings, and this is also true for women experiencing postpartum depression. Exercise may seem like a far off goal as your body continues to heal from childbirth. However, light exercise such as walking is effective in managing depression, enhancing mood, and boosting energy. Taking a stroll in your neighborhood with your baby is a simple and effective way to alleviate sadness and stress.

Self-care – New motherhood is marked with the transformation of identity, physical healing from
pregnancy and birth, and caring for a person who is completely dependent on you. It can feel
impossible to find time for and you’re right, it’s much more difficult to prioritize yourself as a new
mom. Collaborate with your support network and ask for their help by identifying time that they can
take the baby off your hands. It’s important to honor yourself by prioritizing self. That may look like
quiet time in the car, taking a walk alone, talking to a girlfriend or any other accessible activity that
brought you joy before motherhood.

Bonding with your baby – Mothers who suffer from PPD can be loving and attentive towards their
infants. However, there may be times in which you find it difficult to be attentive and are instead
neglectful. It is also a common and key marker of PPD to experience challenges bonding with your
baby. Bonding with your baby has the power to release endorphins, which are known as the happy
hormone. Skin to skin is proven to help parents bond with their baby and build their immune system.
If you notice that you are experiencing intrusive and scary thoughts, hand the baby off to a support
person and ask them to be present when you engage in bonding activities. If you find skin to skin
contact too difficult at first, reading to your baby is also an effective and loving way to bond.
If you are currently pregnant or postpartum and experiencing any of the symptoms described, I want
you to know that there is hope and you are not alone. By leaning into your support network and
seeking help from a perinatal mental health specialist, you can overcome what you’re going through.

You can hear more about my journey, self-compassion in motherhood, and more on instagram,
(@the_breakthroughmama) and on my website Follow and connect
with me, I’d love to speak with you! And make sure to grab your free self-compassion journal HERE.