The most common postpartum emotional reaction is what we call “postpartum stress syndrome” (Kleiman & Raskin, This Isn’t What I Expected), also known as adjustment disorder, which falls between the relatively mild baby blues and the relatively severe postpartum depression. Although common, these women may get lost in the shuffle when describing postpartum adjustment reactions, because the symptoms are not as striking as in depression. In postpartum stress syndrome, women are functioning fairly well and do their best to get through the day with no one else noticing how awful they feel. Their inner resources are intact enough to go through the motions and take care of what needs to be done, but there is a constant sense of disappointment that interferes with feeling good about oneself and one’s new role.
The phenomenon of postpartum stress syndrome is marked by feelings of self-doubt coupled with a deep desire to be a perfect mother. These enormous expectations of being a perfect mother, perfect, wife, and in control at all times, combined with very real feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, can create unbearable distress. It is important to keep in mind that the presence of some negative feelings does not mean you have or will get postpartum depression. Some postpartum adjustment problems are normal parts of the transition into parenthood and/or an expanded family. Postpartum stress syndrome varies greatly among women, depending on the type of stress they experience and what their resources for support are. Some common severe stressors that increase your susceptibility to postpartum stress syndrome include illness in yourself or your child; C- section; closely spaced births-having a toddler to care for along with the new baby; marital separation or significant conflict with your partner; getting a new job or moving to a new home within months of giving birth; and financial difficulties.
Even without any of these stressful situations however, the accumulation of day-to-day hassles can lead to postpartum stress syndrome. Some with with postpartum stress syndrome go on to develop clinical depression. Other women experience postpartum stress syndrome without an associated depression. Fortunately, many of the symptoms of postpartum stress will be relieved by the same measure that help other forms of PPD. Many of the techniques used in treatment are equally effective for depression, anxiety, and postpartum stress syndrome.
The first step is acknowledging the reality of the postpartum stress, as this will give you permission to make nurturing yourself a priority and seek the support you need.
copyright 2014 Adapted from This Isn’t What I Expected, Second Edition, Kleiman & Raskin, DeCapo Press, 2014