Heather Toum, M.Ed, LMHC
How to Manage Anger During the Postpartum Period
One of the most common struggles I hear clients express during the postpartum period (or any other time in life) is with how to manage frustration/anger/irritable mood. No matter what you call it, it is bound to happen from time to time. It is even more common after you have a baby because of:
Sleep Deprivation: Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep a night according to The National Sleep Foundation. New parents rarely get this amount of sleep and even when they do, it is often interrupted. Other symptoms of sleep deprivation (besides irritability) include fatigue/low motivation, difficulty concentrating or with memory, weight gain, low sex drive, and increased risk of serious health conditions such as high blood pressure.
Hormonal Changes: The hormones progesterone and estrogen are at an all time high during pregnancy. Immediately after birth, these hormones drop and are replaced by oxytocin (hormone responsible for “strong mothering instinct”) and prolactin (responsible for milk production). This shift in hormones can cause the “baby blues”, which I discuss further here: http://cpw.care/is-this-the-baby-blues-or-do-i-have-postpartum-depression-or-anxiety/ . Postpartum hormones continue to level out for at least 6 months, but this varies widely based on the individual and whether they are nursing.
Feeling overwhelmed: Having a baby is a major life change. Moms are recovering from delivery, experiencing hormonal shifts, caring for a new human, and attempting to maintain their “normal” lives. Many moms report “not feeling like themselves” or a lose of identity, particularly during this timeframe.
Social Isolation: Social isolation is very common in the beginning of the postpartum period, when woman are adjusting to motherhood and recovering from birth. This is even more true since the outbreak of COVID-19, where moms are faced with the difficult decisions related to keeping themselves with their babies safe. Studies have indicated that social support is a buffer of postpartum depression.
Not meeting basic needs: Hunger, Thirst, Sleep (as above): Moms often find it difficult to maintain self-care routines like eating regular meals, drinking water, taking a shower, getting adequate sleep, and having their emotional needs met outside of caring for their baby. Low blood sugar, dehydration, sleep deprivation, and stress can lead to irritability.
Feeling unheard, underappreciated, and/or holding resentment toward partner: On top of going through the emotional and physical effects of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery, women may struggle with relationships with their partners. This may center around several factors including parenting, the couple relationship, or household responsibilities. If communication difficulties continue, this may lead to resentment and continual frustration.
These factors may be present with or without a PMAD diagnosis and lead to a fluctuation in the frequency and intensity of symptoms. It is helpful to identify the source(s) or reason(s) for the anger to develop effective strategies. Many times, anger (or any other negative emotion), is an indication that something in your life needs to be addressed.
When you are feeling a negative emotion, you basically have 3 choices: 1) Ignore it, 2) Take action or 3) Reframe your thoughts about it. If you notice the negative emotion, ask yourself if you know what has triggered it. If you can identify the trigger, ask yourself if it’s something that needs to be addressed (#2 take action on) or if it makes more sense to change your mindset or thoughts about it (#3). If you choose # 3, reframe your thoughts, ask yourself “What can I tell myself right now that will make me feel better about this?” You are looking for a statement(s) that will give you more of a neutral or possibly positive emotion. This process is the beginning of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
What Are Some Specific Anger Management Strategies?
-Alternate feedings with your partner (need 3-4 hours of sleep in a row)
-Develop regular sleep schedule involving going to sleep at the same time and waking up at the same time
-Utilize sleep strategies (example: sleep meditation, white noise, and limiting caffeine and screen time an hour before bed.
-Address anxiety or other mental health issues interfering with ability to sleep
-Acupuncture with or without Chinese Herbs (depending on nursing)
-Seek medical care to evaluate possible hormonal imbalance
-Acceptance about process and wait for hormones to level
-Seek support from partner or trusted family or friend
-Journal or free-writing
-Relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and mindfulness
-Process through counseling
-Find in person or online support group https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/help-for-moms/
-Spent time with family or friends
-Leave the house every day even if it is a drive or step outside
-Prioritize self-care (eat, shower, sleep, hydrate)
-Ask for and receive help from others
-Set up areas in your home with snacks and water
-Regular exercise/Increased movement
-Communicate needs with partner
-Schedule alone time and quality time with partner
-Seek couples counseling if unable to resolve
Here at the Center for Perinatal Wellness, we believe in a holistic approach to healing. Whether you need to process a life transition, like becoming a mom, or believe you may be struggling with a chronic mental health issue, we would love to support you. Please call us at 413-203-1300 or visit our contact page http://cpw.care/contact/.