New mothers with babies in the NICU are at increased risk of PPD – Part 2

Continuing on the topic I started on January 13th titled “New mothers with babies in the NICU are at increased risk of PPD,” I wanted to add a few points I missed earlier, inspired by a post that came across my feed recently from the Emerald Doulas website titled Preemies Parents and PMADs.  The post was authored by Carrie Banks, an Emerald Doula and one of the North Carolina state coordinators for Postpartum Support International.

Finally home from the NICU with the baby, it is natural for parents to feel anxious, now that they are responsible for their baby’s care and there are no nurses, doctors and machines tending to their baby’s care any longer.  The feeling of being fully responsible and the fear that something may go wrong can cause the parents to feel overwhelmed, especially if there are still medications, feeding and weight gain challenges, as well as physical (e.g., vision, hearing, motor skills) and cognitive development concerns.

I can recall feeling overwhelmed with having to deal with colic, cradle cap and eczema all at once.  My baby was not even a preemie, and my postpartum depression (PPD) starting once the one-week colic period ended.  So, yes, factors that cause stress during the first postpartum weeks while a new mom is still healing from childbirth can indeed lead to PPD.

The Emerald Doulas article contains great tips on addressing:

  • impaired/delayed bonding due to inability to hold the baby/feelings of fear/awkwardness of holding the baby in the NICU
  • transitioning to life at home after the NICU
  • feelings of isolation, guilt and shame
  • why getting help is important

Parents of preemies may also feel ungrateful or even guilty for seeking help for themselves, since everyone’s focus has been on the preemie baby for days, weeks or even months.  While these parents may feel like the only thing that matters is their baby to be okay, they need to remember that they need to stay strong and healthy, both mentally and physically, in order to be there for their baby!  Weeks if not months of having to stay strong for their NICU baby and for other children they may have can chip away until suddenly they find themselves unable to keep it together any longer.  Being anxious and sleep-deprived over an extended period can lead to a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) to set in.

Another contributing factor to the development of a PMAD is the feeling of isolation that occurs from staying home with the baby and keeping visitors away to protect the baby against germs, especially during the winter when colds and the flu abound.  The disappointment that comes from not having friends and family around like they would’ve wanted to have can also contribute toward the development of a PMAD.  Finding a community and support in the form of a NICU support group in-person and/or online can be invaluable, as it can help them feel less alone and more hopeful knowing they are not along in their experience both inside and outside of the NICU having to deal with physical/cognitive development concerns/challenges in addition to the seemingly endless visits with doctors, speech therapists, occupational therapists and/or physical therapists.

There should be no doubt as to whether seeking help is an option.  If you need help, do not hesitate to get it.  Reach out to friends and relatives.  See if you can get a friend and/or relative to help coordinate the search for specific kinds of help.  I’ve seen many situations where a friend sets up a Meal Train account and shares it on social media or email to get friends/relatives/neighbors/colleagues to pitch in money or orders from local restaurants/delis to be sent directly to the family.  If you need help with overnight care and you can afford to hire a postpartum doula, then see if you can locate one through referral from a friend/relative or by searching for one on the Doulas of North America (DONA) website.

You, my dear mother (and father), need to remember self care!