How Perfectionism Can Be A Sign of Postpartum Depression

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” … a type of perfectionism in which individuals feel others expect them to be perfect, known as ‘socially prescribed perfectionism,’ is associated with postpartum depression for first-time mothers.”

I resemble that remark.

I’m not sure I thought others expected me to be perfect, per se. It’s that felt I needed to be as perfect as I thought they were. Is that the same thing? I thought all the other mamas were breezing through new motherhood. That everything for them was easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy. They went to mommy and me classes looking perfect. They breastfed without trouble. They went to lovely lunches with their other new mommy friends. Their babies slept through the night at 6 weeks, and never cried for more than 10 minutes. They wore makeup and brushed their teeth. I just knew they were perfect, so why wasn’t I?

I don’t know why I thought this. The media, maybe? Women’s magazines, with celebrity moms who seem as though they have it all together just two minutes after having a baby? Other moms around me who pretended everything was perfect for them when it wasn’t? My own inner need to be perfect?

I’m guessing it was a combination of all of the above.

Per LiveScience.com’s Rachael Rettner, a small study conducted in Canada is “one of the first to look at how perfectionism affects women’s ability to adjust to life after childbirth.”

It involved 100 first-time mothers in Toronto, Canada, who filled out questionnaires to assess their level and type of perfectionism as well as feelings of depression.

The link between perfectionism and postpartum depression was strongest amongst those who try to deal with perfectionism by appearing as if they don’t have a problem.

“What this suggests is that there might be some new mothers out there who might seem like everything is fine, in fact it might seem like everything is perfect,” said Gordon Flett, a professor of psychology at York University in Canada. “[But] in fact it’s just the opposite, that they’re feeling quite badly but they’re pretty good at covering it up.”

That was me. I went to the pediatrician appointments all made up and looking well-rested and well-adjusted. Did I cry? No way. I didn’t want the pediatrician to think I was crazy. I knew I was crazy (or so I thought), but I certainly didn’t want him to think so. I wanted the man in the white coat to think I was the picture of serenity. So I faked it. Big time. And he was none the wiser.

So now we know that a perfectionist personality can be a risk factor for postpartum depression. The LiveScience.com article states that one way to combat this is to “try to get new mothers to speak about their experience in realistic terms as opposed to just saying what they think people want to hear.” I wonder what that would look like for a mom with PPD. What would the doctor do and say to make her feel comfortable sharing her experience in realistic terms? What do you think?

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. Absolutely true!! I was a perfectionist prior to having my son, but it was never really a "problem". In the first few weeks postpartum, my house was cleaned spotless, organized from A to Z, I was always showered including make-up and my son dressed to the nines. What people didn't know was that I would spend ALL NIGHT carting around a colicky baby cleaning and re-cleaning and it still wasn't good enough. I was falling apart inside but the more I made my house look "perfect" the more "perfect" I would appear to my family and friends.
    I am still learning to let go of that ideal home I envisioned. It's hard sometimes.

  2. Oops I meant to add ideal life and mother I envisioned I would be. Also comparing myself to others and not getting proper feedback from some important female figures in my life also had an impact. Why don't we tell other moms that Motherhood is HARD?! and that we can't be perfect all the time. No one is…except Martha Stewart ;)

  3. Abso-freakin-lutely.

  4. My perfectionistic tendencies help to lead to my PPD and PPA. Although, I was not holding it together on the outside at all, so it was pretty obvious to those around me that something was going on. I still felt that pressure though, you know? That pressure to be the perfect mom and have the perfect baby, I just had NO energy to do anything about it. As far as how could a doctor approach a mom to make her feel comfortable? I think ti depends on the mom and the situation. I think more training overall and screening by both Pediatricians and OBGYNS would be beneficial. More talking and less pamphlet shoving.

  5. Amber @Beyond Postpa says:

    Ugh. If there was a degree in freakin' perfectionism, I'd have a PHD, plus a minor in rigidity! For me this statement is kind of like the one that also spoke directly to me that said, "women w/PPD will have no sex drive for approx. what seems like the rest of their lives." I guess the one good thing was that when I finally fell apart those who knew me didn't have the choice to ignore it, as it was so obvious that ms. perfection hadn't showered in 6 days.

  6. Totally agree. Although, I look back and remember complaining about our dirty house (which I used to clean weekly, if not daily) and my husband saying to me, "nobody expects someone with a new baby to have a clean house." I had to explain to him that I never cleaned my house for other people. I LIKED my house to be clean. I don't like looking at dirty dishes or dog hair on the floor. The new reality of my house being dirty and I couldn't find the time to clean it for myself bothered me more than anyone else seeing it. I'm not going to lie, I like other people thinking I have it all together – But I didn't like seeing the things I prided myself on slipping away. I didn't have the ability to prioritize because everything was important…to me.

  7. I felt like I had to "feel" perfect as a mother…..always in love with my baby, always content with having this adorable newborn, never frustrated or angry. I couldn't reconcile being over the moon and sometimes terribly miserable at the same time. But that IS motherhood (as I continually learn with my 3 kids after 6 years of doing this). And that is NORMAL.
    Plus, I was always the "with it" person. The one who went above and beyond at work. The one who had it all together. But mothering (in my case stay-at-home mothering) is not like any other job or career. You are rarely in control and never have any guarantees.

  8. Yay – I'm not the only perfectionist survivor mom! Well, I knew that to be true when my therapist told me that my type AAA personality was for sure a trigger of PPD/PPA. I didn't handle a traumatic birth well. I hated myself that breast feeding didn't work. I was appalled that my house was a mess. I tried to cover it up, but I looked like death, so I couldn't cover it up.
    I've let go of so much of my perfectionistic/scheduled/control freak tendencies because I've had to. But I still have a ways to go!

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  1. […] a new season of motherhood and life. I am no longer so focused on doing everything perfectly (a symptom of PPD); rather I am excited to get out in the world and teach my children about life and […]