After you have a baby, you might feel overwhelmed and exhausted, not to mention worried about your new addition. These feelings are called “baby blues,” and they affect about 80 percent of new moms. But if your feelings of fear and anxiety persist, get worse or become something else, you might be dealing with postpartum depression, a diagnosable condition that affects about one out of every seven moms.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a severe type of clinical depression that’s triggered by the birth of a baby. It’s directly related to pregnancy and childbirth, and it can affect you up to a full year after your child is born. Most women who experience postpartum depression start feeling it within the first few weeks after birth, but it’s important to note that women who suffer from PPD may start feeling the effects during pregnancy as well.
PPD can affect both first-time mothers as well as those who’ve given birth before. It’s not always limited to moms, either. Up to 25 percent of fathers experience some form of postpartum depression during the first year after a child is born. This type of depression does not discriminate against age, race, or socioeconomic status and should not be taken lightly.
Symptoms of PPD
Not every woman will experience all of the same symptoms, nor does she experience these symptoms with the same intensity. One major red flag for PPD and one of the first signs that something isn’t quite right is lack of bonding with the baby. You might not want to hold or take care of your new arrival, or you might not feel the connection that you were expecting when you gave birth. Other symptoms include:
- Feelings of hopelessness or emptiness
- Sadness, guilt and/or confusion for not wanting to bond with the baby
- Feeling overwhelmed, beyond the normal amount of a new parent
- Trouble sleeping
- Problems with eating
- Crying uncontrollably
- Being unable to concentrate or connect with others
- Feeling irritated and/or impatient
Postpartum depression goes beyond the so-called baby blues. You may experience just a few of these symptoms, or mild or severe forms of them. But one of the underlying feelings that PPD sufferers has is a sense that something isn’t right. If you feel this way or suspect that the feelings you have go beyond typical new parent feelings, talk to your doctor.
Why does it happen?
Shortly after delivery, postpartum depression can begin due to the sudden drop in hormones, which affects chemicals in the brain that cause depression. It can also be caused simply by the overwhelming physical and emotional changes that a woman experiences during and after the birth of a child. These include exhaustion and physical discomfort from delivery, recovery or nursing. Women who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth can also experience postpartum depression because they often experience similar hormonal and emotional fluctuations. Certain other risk factors increase your chances of experiencing PPD, such as:
- History of depression before or during pregnancy
- A stressful home life or the lack of a support system
- Complicated pregnancy or delivery
- Other stress in your life, like a big move or the loss of a job
You might face a higher risk if you have these and other issues prior to having a baby, but you might not. Postpartum depression affects women of all backgrounds. It’s a clinical – and treatable – temporary condition that’s based on your body’s response to pregnancy and childbirth. It’s critical to remember that you didn’t “cause” PPD, and there is a way to treat it.
If left untreated, postpartum depression can last for years and can lead to more serious problems with you or your child, such as developmental or behavior issues. Also, although very rare, if you begin seeing or hearing things that no one else is, if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, or if you are starting to feel paranoid, these are all signs of something more serious or long-term called postpartum psychosis. With these symptoms, you should tell someone and seek a treatment plan right away.
Like those battling tragedy, women with postpartum depression go through six stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comes after treatment when you start feeling better but are still feeling the trauma from your depression and are worried that it will return. It can last for years, but there’s hope for women struggling with PPD and its aftermath.
Changes in your lifestyle might speed up recovery and will complement the method of treatment you use. You can begin managing your stress by exercising, drinking plenty of water, eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep and taking breaks from your child. Ask for help with chores or errands so you don’t feel too overwhelmed. In some cases, antidepressant medications may also be prescribed if your doctor thinks they would help.
When your baby blues turn into something more, reach out for support. Find a healthcare professional, specialist or program that caters to your specific needs. Speaking to a mental health professional, such as a counselor or therapist, may help you recognize your symptoms so you can begin to change thoughts and behaviors. You might also find comfort in joining a postpartum depression support group. Connecting with other mothers who are currently experiencing postpartum depression or who have already recovered may help you break the spell of believing that you’re alone – you aren’t, and there are lots of people willing and able to help you.