May is Maternal Mental Health Month, so HuffPost Parenting and Wellness are shining a light on postpartum well-being. From how new moms handle those early days as parents while struggling with their own mental health to how to be there for friends and family, we’ve created a space for moms and their loved ones to feel seen and heard in those first trying months of parenthood. See the full series here.
Becoming a new parent can be a joyous time in a person’s life, but the transition also comes with its share of lows. Beyond the poop-filled diapers and sleepless nights, many new parents deal with postpartum mental health issues.
“Many women can experience mood symptoms such as the postpartum blues which consists of feeling anxious, irritable or tearful,” said Ash Nadkarni, an associate psychiatrist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. She added that these symptoms can progress to depression or anxiety in about “10-15% of women.”
“With depression, women can experience worthlessness or guilt, tearfulness, depressed mood, lack of pleasure in usual activities, poor concentration, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, sleep and appetite changes. With anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and OCD can all occur,” she explained.
Of course, new mothers are not the only ones affected.
“Though we commonly associate this as being a women’s issue, the prevalence rates among men are significant with about 1 in 10 dads experiencing postpartum symptoms as well,” said Sarah Hubbell, a marriage and family therapist in Phoenix. “This is a huge life transition for both parents, and stress and anxiety are very common responses that accompany all life transitions.”
Nadkarni added that it can be difficult to diagnose postpartum mental health issues because “many of the symptoms of depression or anxiety such as fatigue or problematic sleep and appetite occur naturally” after giving birth and having a newborn around.
Luckily, these issues are highly treatable as long as you’re aware of what to look for and when to ask for help — which is where the following book recommendations may come in handy. Below are a handful of expert-approved titles you should read if you’re a new parent (or if you love someone who just had a baby).
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“The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality” by Kimberly Ann Johnson
Kristen Russell, an inpatient primary therapist at Arizona-based mental health facility Sierra Tucson — which has a specialty in maternal mental health and postpartum depression — offered this book recommendation because of its holistic approach to the transition from giving birth to adjusting to worries over body and identity changes.
“The book highlights how precious this time is for women in today’s society and how the new mother can create a nurturing approach to unexpected emotions and struggles," she said. "[The author] highlights her own struggle with postpartum, as well as that of other women."
Russell also offered “This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression” because of the way it breaks down all the categories of postpartum moods and anxiety in an easy-to-digest format.
“The book explains the symptoms of each type of postpartum such as depression, anxiety/panic, obsessive-compulsive thoughts/urges and treatment options. And the book offers ways to cope with unexpected stressors after the birth of the baby,” she said.
Additionally, Ilyse Kennedy, a trauma therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health and complex trauma in Austin, Texas, said, “'This Isn’t What I Expected' acknowledges the grief and difficulties in experiencing postpartum depression."
"It is comforting in the ways it normalizes the experience for new parents to make them feel held in community with others who have endured similar experiences," she added.
“The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for Living With Postpartum Depression” comes highly recommended by psychologist Roseann Capanna-Hodge, who works with clients in Connecticut and New York.
“The partner or spouse of a woman with postpartum may not know what to do or how to support someone with postpartum. This book offers both information and practical guidance on how to give support to a postpartum woman,” she said.
Lauren Gourley, a perinatal mental health therapist in Wisconsin, said she recommends “Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts: A Healing Guide to the Secret Fears of New Mothers” to almost every new parent she works with.
“It is both comprehensive and really easy to read in small moments between caring for the baby. It has beautiful illustrations and captures many of the stresses and challenges of postpartum depression along with providing tangible suggestions for how to cope and seek additional support,” she explained.
According to Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, "This book provides information, validation and clarification for the experiences of new mothers. It is written for clinicians but many patients have found the book to be helpful in its ability to explain why the negative thoughts are present and what can be done about them. It’s a hidden gem and one that many patients find incredibly valuable.”
Nadkarni said obsessive-compulsive disorder affects 1 in every 5 women during or after pregnancy in the postpartum period, highlighting not only the importance of screening for OCD but also the utility of treating it. She said she often recommends “The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook: Practical Skills to Help You Overcome Anxiety, Worry, Panic Attacks, Obsessions and Compulsions” to patients to help them get started with an approach to OCD.
We know how important mindfulness is for our overall well-being, but new parents don’t always have the time to incorporate a long meditation session or other mindfulness activities. Fortunately, “Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms,” which was recommended by New York-based psychologist Emily Guarnotta, makes it easy.
“Mothers face many adjustments during the postpartum period that can be overwhelming. Mindfulness is an effective tool for helping [them] deal with these challenges and helps set them up for success in the future," she said. "You do not need to spend hours each day meditating in order to get the benefits. This book is an excellent resource for helping mothers learn and practice mindfulness skills in five minutes or less."
And despite the title, it’s not just for moms. “In this book there are 65 useful strategies to increase mindfulness amidst the daily activities of a parent, and can be used for both new fathers and mothers,” added Brian Wind, a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University.
Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Zinnia Practice in California, recommended this book for its “somewhat humorous look at pregnancy and the postpartum period.”
Osibodu-Onyali said the author covers “common topics that new moms worry about such as difficulty breastfeeding, scary thoughts, how to seek support, how to inform family members if you’re struggling with postpartum depression, and even returning to work.”
When you are sleep-deprived, an overly clinical book is likely to get shelved; this is not that book, according to Hubbell. “The Mother-to-Mother Postpartum Depression Support Book” details the stories of real women who have experienced a variety of postpartum experiences and how they got through them.
While reading any of these books will provide valuable knowledge and help you navigate life as a new parent, it’s also crucial to know when to put down the reading material and call your doctor.
“When your thoughts and feelings get in the way of taking care of your baby and yourself, then it’s important to speak to a professional who has lots of experience in perinatal mental health so that you can get some support,” Osibodu-Onyali said. “If you or your baby is in danger or you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, it’s important to also reach out for help.”