In this episode of Healthful Woman Podcast, Dr. Nathan Fox discusses a high-risk birth story. Dr. Deena Blanchard, a pediatrician in NY, shares her story on postpartum anxiety. Dr. Blanchard shares her story to show that postpartum anxiety “can happen to anyone” and that “there’s no shame in having a postpartum mood disorder.”
Postpartum anxiety is when someone has severe anxiety after having a baby or becoming a parent. While it is normal to have some level of worry after welcoming a new baby, those with postpartum anxiety will experience all-consuming worry or anxious feelings that feel out of control.
Postpartum anxiety is a separate condition from postpartum depression, which may cause excessive sadness or cause individuals to feel as if they cannot take care of themselves or their baby. Postpartum depression can also occur along with postpartum anxiety. If you are experiencing panic or overwhelmed with fearful thoughts, you may have postpartum anxiety and should seek professional guidance from your OBGYN, midwife, or mental health professional.
Postpartum anxiety does not discriminate; anyone can experience it. Dr. Deena Blanchard, a mother, and pediatrician in NY experienced postpartum anxiety following the birth of her second child. “There’s no shame in having a postpartum mood disorder,” she said.
In 2010 at the age of 30, Dr. Blanchard was pregnant with her second son, AJ. The pregnancy itself was uneventful, with less nausea than she had with her first. “It was easy. It was smooth sailing,” she said. Labor was also a positive experience, as she gave birth within four hours of her water breaking. Overall, the birth was an easy one and she was looking forward to maternity leave. “I went in with the expectation that this was going to be like glorious maternity leave,” she said. “I was going to take walks and go to brunch with my friends. And honestly, in hindsight, it’s not advice I would ever give anyone to go into birth with.”
Things began to become rocky when she brought the baby home after birth. “I really struggled with breastfeeding, and it was extremely painful for me, but I was actually irrationally committed to not letting AJ have any formula.” She continued to breastfeed through the pain and was experiencing feelings of failure. The baby was also colicky, which caused her to become overwhelmed. “I started obsessing about the colic,” she said. She started to cut things out of her diet to see if it would help with the baby’s reflux but ended up restricting her diet much more than needed. All these stressful factors culminated to manifest as anxiety.
“Then I realized I had to go back to work, and I started having panic attacks,” she said. “I was debilitated. The idea of going back to work… I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding, and I knew that they were panic attacks.”
She decided to seek out a professional psychiatrist, who told her that she had postpartum anxiety, which was a great relief to hear. “It was like the clouds had parted and like a light bulb turned on.” Now that she had a diagnosis, she could take steps toward healing. She also felt that the diagnosis was proof that she wasn’t failing as a parent. “Having the diagnosis really was a sense of relief in that, like, it wasn’t my fault.”
After experiencing post-partum anxiety herself, Dr. Blanchard felt strongly that no one should have to suffer in silence and question their ability as a parent. She decided that her practice should start doing post-partum anxiety screening. Initially, this screening involved a two-question questionnaire, which evolved into a ten-questionnaire initial screen. They also began recommending professionals in the fields of reproductive psychiatry and psychology as helpful resources for pregnant mothers and new moms. Next, her practice began working with Melissa Paschke who is a postpartum social worker. They would refer to her and she would also see patients in the office, which was the start of de-stigmatizing mental health issues. The last step was to partner with OB-GYNS to help with the process of diagnosis.
Overall, the main goal is to ensure that there is regular post-partum anxiety and depression screening available for all and to de-stigmatize mental illness.
“I think there’s a lot of stigma around mental illness, particularly in the postpartum period where many new parents feel that they should feel like everything is kind of rainbows, lollipops, and sunshine,” Dr. Blanchard explained. “And if you don’t, you start to doubt yourself as a parent, which is a terrible feeling. And no parent should feel that way. So, creating a space in which that can be talked about and removing the kind of fantasy of what life should look like after you have a baby, to me, is one of the most important things right now.”
If you are experiencing the symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression, do not hesitate to reach out to our office today. Our team of skilled medical professionals is here to help.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!