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Support for new moms: Postpartum Support Group at Sharp

By The Health News Team | May 1, 2024
Woman typing on laptop while holding baby

“What am I doing wrong?” “My baby is better off with someone else.”

These were some of the thoughts going through Kaci Whisler’s mind last summer after giving birth to her son at Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Women & Newborns.

Kaci and her husband did not have the benefit of family nearby who could help lessen the load couples often face when transitioning to the role of new parents. Moreover, their baby had difficulties gaining weight, which added to the already mounting stress.

Kaci felt anxious, defeated and tired of juggling motherhood responsibilities while also trying to ensure her baby was healthy. “I thought it was just the stress of having a new baby and the baby not gaining weight,” says Kaci. “I thought I just needed more time to get used to life as a new mom.”

As weeks passed, Kaci’s son began to gain weight and thrive. But Kaci did not feel any better. The emotions she thought were just “baby blues” stuck around. She realized there was a more significant issue.

More than the blues

Lori Alford, a licensed social worker with Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Behavioral Health, leads the Postpartum Support Group at Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Women & Newborns. She says up to 80% of new mothers experience the baby blues to varying degrees.

Lori Alford of Sharp Grossmont Hospital

Lori Alford's postpartum support group gives new moms an opportunity to connect with each other and navigate the early days of motherhood.

“The physical demands of childbirth, lack of sleep, hormonal changes and adjustment to infant care are possible contributing factors,” says Alford.

Signs that a mother may have the baby blues include:

  • Crying spells

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Difficulty concentrating

Baby blues can happen within a few days after delivery and may last a few weeks. For Kaci, she found out during her 6-week postpartum doctor’s appointment that she had more than the blues. Kaci completed a questionnaire that revealed she had postpartum depression.

Baby blues is different from postpartum depression, also referred to as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). “Baby blues symptoms are mild to moderate; shorter in duration, typically lasting a couple of weeks; and tend to wax and wane,” says Alford. “Usually, moms can manage their responsibilities and take care of themselves and their baby.”

On the other hand, PMAD symptoms, which include depression, anxiety and psychosis tend to be more severe and persistent, lasting weeks or months. The condition can develop during pregnancy or within the first year after giving birth.

“With PMADs, the mom can be significantly impaired in her ability to function,” says Alford. “She may be overly preoccupied with scary thoughts of danger, which may prevent her from going out and resuming normal activities.”

In addition to mood symptoms, people with PMADs may experience persistent thoughts of low self-worth, guilt and hopelessness. In some cases, a woman may experience thoughts of harming herself or her baby.

“It's important to pay attention to symptoms and consult with a health care provider for an evaluation and diagnosis,” says Alford.

Support through sharing

After being diagnosed with postpartum depression, Kaci’s doctor suggested she attend Alford’s postpartum support group.

Kaci began attending the virtual support group regularly. Before attending, Kaci felt guilty for feeling the way she did. She felt that being a mom should not be so hard and there was no reason she should feel anxious or sad because she was so happy to have her son.

“I felt like I was a bad mom and not meant to be a mother,” says Kaci. “So, hearing from others going through the same struggles was very helpful because it meant that it was okay to have both negative and positive feelings all at once. That’s normal.”

Kaci values being able to talk to Alford and others in the group about the ups and downs of being a new mom.

“The groups are a nonjudgemental environment so that moms can express their thoughts and feelings openly and honestly,” adds Alford. “They offer peer guidance from other moms who can share stories of success. It's important for moms who have either baby blues or PMADS to connect with others — not isolate — and get support.”

Topics discussed during the group gatherings include baby care; sibling adjustment issues; family, health, economic or other stressors; and mental health issues. As Lori leads the group through these discussions, she also provides general ideas on coping with emotion dysregulation and self-care. And she provides resources for individual therapy and medication.

Mothers can have their babies with them during the virtual sessions. Group sessions then close with a briefly guided mindfulness meditation.

Kaci says she now feels that motherhood has become more manageable. “This group has shown me that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed,” she says. “It’s important to seek help early on, to talk to people, and to be open with your thoughts and emotions.”

Kaci looks forward to watching her son grow. She’s also excited about returning to her career after maternity leave. “I am looking forward to merging everything now — my career with being a mom — and being getting back to reading, baking, working out and enjoying more time with my son,” she says.

If you are experiencing moderate to severe PMADs and need more intensive support, learn more about our Maternal Mental Health Program.

Learn more about mental health services at Sharp HealthCare; sign up for the Postpartum Support Group at Sharp Grossmont Hospital or Sharp Mary Birch Hospital; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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