Approximately 12%-20% of new moms will experience postpartum depression after their pregnancy. Unfortunately, I was one of the 12%-20% who suffered from this condition.
My pregnancy itself was stressful. I was fortunate that I had a very healthy pregnancy but I was young, it was extremely unplanned and the “what-ifs” of having a baby and being a young mother were daunting to say the least. I did the best I could; ate healthy, exercised, read all the books, and thought I was as prepared as I could be for taking care of a newborn. After 20+ hours of labor my daughter arrived and after a few days at the hospital we headed home. I had all the information on how to care for a newborn but was horribly unprepared and unaware of the emotional and hormonal changes that turned what should have been an exciting time into a time of tears, sadness and worrying.
The Baby Blues
Anyone who has had a baby knows that newborns are exhausting. Moms are often sleep deprived which can lead to irritability, crying, feeling overwhelmed and mood swings. It’s important to note that most moms will experience some form of “baby blues,” a period when a woman’s hormones are returning to normal. Baby blues typically occur about four days after baby is born and should be gone in less than two weeks. The hormonal changes women experience during this period can cause moodiness, feelings of being overwhelmed, crying for “no good reason,” and feeling exhausted.
While it’s not the most pleasant experience it does go away. Like I said, the baby blues typically don’t last more than two weeks. For some women, however, these feelings don’t go away and they are left caring for a newborn while barely being able to care for themselves.
Postpartum Depression…A Different Story
Postpartum depression is a different story, and is more serious than the baby blues. As I mentioned the baby blues go away. The feelings of sadness and hopelessness slowly disappear as a woman’s hormones even out. However, with postpartum depression, symptoms can occur for weeks and months after childbirth. The symptoms are often similar to baby blues but feel even worse and last longer.
- Depressed mood
- Crying for no reason
- Feeling of doom or emptiness
- Loss of pleasure in daily activities
- Appetite and weight change
- Sleep problems (not related to a newborn)
- Extreme fatigue or loss of energy
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Thoughts about death or suicide
In some women these symptoms can be debilitating. Postpartum depression can make it difficult for a woman to function and bonding with and caring for a newborn almost impossible. Northwestern Medicine recently conducted a study on postpartum depression in women where 10,000 women were studied. It was determined that the vast majority of women who suffer from postpartum depression are not identified or treated properly. Not only can this be detrimental to the mother, but Katherine Wisner, lead researcher says,
“A woman’s mental health has a profound effect on fetal development as well as her child’s physical and emotional development.”
Wisner also talks about women who experience postpartum depression symptoms but do not seek help. She explains,
“A lot of women do not understand what is happening to them. They think they’re just stressed or they believe it is how having a baby is supposed to feel.”
Wisner’s second quote describes my postpartum depression. As a young, new mother I didn’t know what to expect after having my daughter. I assumed it would be stressful and a lot of work. But, I think most can attest to the fact that until you have a baby you cannot possibly fathom just how much work a child actually is.
I was fortunate that I had tremendous family support and an awful lot of help in those early, difficult months but I still could not shake my feelings of sadness and hopelessness. I felt as if my life was forever going to center around a crying baby and very little sleep. I was always sad, had little to no energy, and found myself crying for no good reason multiple times a day. I was fortunate that I had a doctor who was attentive and genuinely concerned about the well-being of not only my baby but me as well. When I went in for a follow up appointment about a month after my daughter’s birth she asked me how I was feeling… I can remember vividly, sitting in the doctor’s office crying, not fully understanding why, but feeling like there was absolutely no hope left in my life. My doctor explained to me that some “extra-emotional” periods are common but what I was experiencing was not the norm.
How to Diagnose
Postpartum depression can be tricky to diagnose. First and foremost, if you’re experiencing symptoms like sadness or hopelessness; or are having thoughts about harming yourself or your baby talk with your doctor immediately! Your doctor may ask you questions to help you assess your symptoms and diagnose your depression. WebMD has an online interactive tool you can try too, but like I mentioned, talk to your physician if you are experiencing these symptoms.
Treatments for postpartum depression can vary. Some women and their partners can benefit from counseling. Counseling can help change feelings of hopelessness to feelings of excitement and optimism. It’s important to note that if you’re breastfeeding you’ll want to check with your doctor to make sure any other treatments are safe to use while nursing. You may want to look at ChyaPro from Premier Research Labs or DHA Xtra from Nordic Naturals.
Happy Babies Have Happy Moms
Postpartum depression can be completely overwhelming but with the proper treatment you can get through it. As much as you want to care for your new baby constantly, it’s important to remember to care for yourself too. Remember, happy babies have happy moms. Take a few minutes for yourself every day to exercise, read a book, listen to music, or whatever it is that helps you relax. Exercise is also a natural mood enhancer, so incorporating exercise into your day can help you feel better, shed the baby weight, and energize you too. If it’s too cold to walk outside with your baby try packing up the kiddo and the stroller and going for a walk around the mall.
Remember, you don’t have to be perfect; no mom is. Make sure to take care of yourself so that you can care for your baby and savor the moments with your newborn. They really do go by too quickly.