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Postpartum Depression and Addiction

Having a new baby is often heralded as what should be the happiest time in a woman’s life. However, many women suffer from a condition called postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can interfere with a mother bonding with her child and affects 1 out of every 200 new mothers.

Some of the new mothers who develop postpartum depression have no history of mental health disorders. However, any preexisting mood disorders can impact whether you develop postpartum depression or not. We at New Directions for Women are here to help you work on your depression as well as helping you find your road to recovery and bond more fully with your child.

Some Women Turn to Addictive Substances Because of Their Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can affect both women who are first-time mothers and women who have already had children. Most women get what’s called the “baby blues” after giving birth. The baby blues can occur every day for a few minutes or up to a few hours. The blues also usually go away after two weeks. Postpartum depression is much more severe. Sometimes postpartum depression can trigger the new mother to either start abusing substances again or start abusing substances for the first time. 

Some reasons why women with postpartum depression abuse substances are:

  • Attempts to cope with anxiety and stress
  • Improve depressed mood
  • Attempt to improve the ability to fall asleep
  • Increase energy levels

Some Substances Can Pass into the Breast Milk

Although some medications are dangerous if a woman is breastfeeding, there are many antidepressants and other medications that won’t pass into the mother’s milk. It’s important that you talk to your doctor about which medications you should take for any of your conditions. Some medications and supplements like St. John’s wort are sometimes used as an unregulated mental health disorder treatment. Unfortunately, these can often react negatively to most formal antidepressant medications.

An example of a condition that might be hard to admit is an addiction to methamphetamine, also known as meth. When substances like alcohol, nicotine, and meth pass into the breast milk your baby is getting the substance with the breast milk. In other words, you’re giving your infant meth if you use meth and breastfeed. Your child can become addicted to substances that pass from you into your milk. Giving time between doing meth, heroin, or taking other substances is still dangerous. Even some substances like vape fumes can be harmful.

Many Women Suffer from Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is extremely serious. 83% of women were able to achieve abstinence from substances during pregnancy, but 80% of the mothers relapsed after two years. The symptoms of postpartum depression differ from the symptoms of baby blues. Neither is enjoyable, but postpartum depression can be devastating. Postpartum depression is persistent. It can especially affect a mother’s ability to bond with her infant.

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

The symptoms of postpartum depression are often dramatic. It’s important to not go into denial about your condition. Denial might stop you from getting the help you need and that might send you further down the path of addiction.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

  • The symptoms of postpartum depression are
  • Depression or severe mood swings
  • Excessive Crying
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling worthlessness, shame, inadequacy, or guilt
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Fear that you are not a good mother
  • Eating much more than usual or loss of appetite
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Sleeping too much or inability to sleep (insomnia)
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, make decisions, and concentrate
  • Restlessness
  • Intense irritability or anger
  • Reduced pleasure and interest in things that you used to enjoy
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby
  • Recurrent or think often of death or suicide

Postpartum Depression Should Not Be Ignored

There are several stressors that can encourage postpartum depression. Some people will say that you just feel this way because it’s what happens when you have a baby. Please remember that you are important as well as the baby. Here are some of the stressors: 

  • Tired from lack of sleep or broken sleep 
  • Being overwhelmed by the responsibility of having a new baby
  • Stressful changes in-home or work routines
  • Isolation
  • Pressure from others and yourself to be an unrealistically perfect mother
  • Feeling less attractive
  • Less free time available including time that might be used for self-care
  • Grief over changes the baby has made in your life and feeling like you might not be you anymore
  • Doubts about parenting abilities and parenting success
  • Fatigue after labor and delivery

How to Help Someone with Postpartum Depression

Unfortunately, many mothers of infants have a hard time getting everything done and might be psychologically stressed by it. It is important to remember the mother and help her. Many women are ignored or feel neglected because all of the focus is on the new baby. In many cases, she might not get the support that she needs to care for her baby.

Here are some things you can do to help a new mother:

  • Offer to babysit the infant if you can so that she can rest
  • Offer to watch her older children if she has any to give her time alone with her baby
  • Help her eat healthfully by helping with meal prep or getting the groceries sometimes. She might not have time or energy to do it herself
  • Watch her mental health. Especially if the mother has an addiction disorder, even if she has been secure on her road to recovery for a long time, a new baby is incredibly stressful.
  • Research mental health possibilities like a therapist if you see the signs of postpartum depression
  • Look into possible addiction rehabilitation clinics for her if she starts to abuse substances again or if she seems to be developing addictive behaviors. This doesn’t mean you have to push the idea on her if she isn’t using it yet. It can be good information to have on hand.
  • Help with day to day chores like cleaning.

Your Treatment for Postpartum Depression and Addiction Recovery Can Be Discreet

There are doctor/patient confidentiality laws. Generally, a doctor cannot disclose any medical information that you give to them while you are under their care and afterward. This includes therapists and mental health professionals. Usually, all doctors are not allowed to violate doctor/patient confidentiality unless they believe that their patient is an active danger to themselves or others. 

Because of confidentiality, there are protections and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act if you choose to have a job. However, these protections are only available if you are receiving treatment for your addiction disorder and you have been sober for a certain amount of time.

Social Media, Good Intentions, and Criticism

Many people know that many of the posts on social media can be snapshots of only the best moments of a mother and child’s life. A mother with postpartum depression might not be in a state where she can emotionally take that into account. Sometimes a person’s guilt, shame, and anxiety will latch onto whatever it can to justify itself. 

However, whether they have children or not, many people will always have things to tell you about what you shouldn’t do and often how you’re doing everything wrong. Although it might feel impossible it is ok to tell these people to mind their own business.

Family can be another source of shame. Sometimes mothers and mothers-in-law can be very critical even if they do not mean to be. You are well within your rights to tell them to stop. However, this might be difficult for any new mother including mothers with substance abuse problems. This is especially true if the family has threatened to call Child Protective Services (CPS) whether or not you are in control of the situation. This can be especially worrying if you have a history of substance abuse or if others are telling you that you are developing a substance abuse disorder.

New Directions for Women

Here at New Directions for Women, we understand how hard balancing a new infant, other family needs, care of the home, and often working outside the home can be. We offer services to help heal the whole family, including young children. This holistic approach is important for someone starting or returning to their road to recovery. A mother with an addiction disorder does not create a healthy living space for her children. Addiction is powerful and destructive. 

Let us help you find your road to recovery and help you develop the tools you need for your life and to care for your baby in a more healthful way. Please contact us for more information.





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Clinically Reviewed By:

Picture of Heather Black-Coyne, LMFT, CADC II, Chief Clinical Officer

Heather Black-Coyne, LMFT, CADC II, Chief Clinical Officer

Heather most recently served as the Clinical Director of a gender-specific treatment center in Huntington Beach. She is trained in both Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which serve the needs of our clients, many of whom have experienced both complex trauma and substance use disorder.

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