The months following the birth of a newborn can be beautiful and challenging for both parents and others in the family. These early days are filled with new experiences, some unexpected swings in emotion, and for some women, postpartum depression.
While it’s normal for new moms to experience some mild mood swings and moments of worry, postpartum depression (PPD) involves more intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or despair. These symptoms can appear within days or even months after giving birth and interfere significantly with a woman’s ability to care for her newborn and herself.
Postpartum depression is a clinically diagnosed mental health condition affecting up to 25% of mothers and far more serious than what some call “the baby blues”, or mild depression after delivery. PPD can start anytime during pregnancy and up to the first year after delivery, interfering with the mother’s health and baby’s healthy development.
There are several indicators involved in diagnosing postpartum depression, including the symptoms, the risk factors, the distinctions from other mental health conditions, and the role of hormonal changes. Medical professionals can help mothers navigate through these complexities to gain a deeper understanding of their mental health.
What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
Symptoms of postpartum depression can present in a wide range of emotions and may not be consistent, nor predictable. Non-birthing parents, siblings, or other family members may also experience anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges following the addition of a new baby to the family, and can be quite significant. Postpartum depression feelings are intense and should not be ignored as they can pose a danger for both mom, other caregivers, and baby.
Symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
• Frequent crying
• Feeling like a bad mother
• Changes in appetite or sleep
• Difficulty concentrating
Less quantitative symptoms of postpartum depression might range from feeling empty and emotionless to uncontrollable crying and sadness. New moms might also feel disconnected from their baby without a desire to nurture them or worry excessively about their baby’s health and wellbeing. It’s important to recognize these symptoms and understand that PPD is not a character flaw or weakness— it’s a serious mental health issue that requires professional attention.
Every woman’s experience with postpartum depression is unique. The severe mood swings, overwhelming fatigue, intense irritability, or difficulty bonding with the baby may be frightening. It may also result in a diminished ability to think clearly or make decisions, and sometimes, disturbing thoughts about harming oneself or the baby.
What are the Risk Factors of Postpartum Depression?
While any new mother can develop postpartum depression, certain risk factors can increase its likelihood. These may include a history of depression or mental illness, experiencing stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications or illness, recent loss of a loved one, having a baby who’s been hospitalized, lacking a strong support system, or having difficulties in relationships.
Understanding these risk factors can be a vital first step in recognizing the signs early on and seeking help. It’s important to remember that postpartum depression isn’t a ‘failing’ characteristic as a mother. It’s a genuine health condition that requires medical attention.
Women with postpartum depression need help in order to feel better. Many mothers may feel they can “get past it” on their own, but it’s important to reach out to your obstetrician or primary care provider for help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician and let them know how you feel.
The Role of Hormonal Changes in Postpartum Depression
Following childbirth, a woman’s body undergoes significant hormonal changes. Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are high during pregnancy, drop dramatically in the first 24 hours after childbirth. These swift chemical changes can lead to mood swings and may trigger postpartum depression in some women.
Additionally, the physical exhaustion and challenges of taking care of a new baby can contribute to difficulty in post-birth recovery and increased depressive symptoms. Changes in eating habits, the impact on the body of breastfeeding, less sleep, and heightened anxiety all contribute to hormonal changes. These are normal experiences and it’s healthy to talk to a medical provider about all of these factors.
How do the “Baby Blues” Differ from Postpartum Depression?
The term “Baby Blues” is a term coined to describe the changes in a mother’s moods after delivery. Mothers may experience anxiety, confusion, fear, a sense of being overwhelmed, or feelings of loss. It is very common and occurs at some level in up to 80% of mothers. The feelings associated with Baby Blues are generally strongest around 3-5 days after delivery and can last for a few weeks. Baby Blues differ in both the level of intensity of feelings and length of time compared to those with more serious postpartum depression. Your medical provider can help you determine whether your feelings are more common or need monitoring and follow up.
Members of the mother’s immediate family may also experience mental health symptoms related to the many changes surrounding a new addition to the family. Any family member who is not feeling their best should seek counseling to support the wellbeing of themselves and the whole family.
How does Postpartum Depression Impact a Woman’s Health?
Depression, including postpartum depression, is a significant concern regarding the overall health of women. This condition is not merely a personal struggle; it’s a public health issue that is recognized as having long-term effects on both the mother and baby’s overall health and wellbeing. It can lead to serious health concerns and potential injury to both mother and baby.
Medical providers understand the significance of this issue and potential for concern in any woman after the birth of their child. Recognizing the signs of postpartum depression and seeking professional help is the first step towards health and healing. Mothers should be honest and forthcoming with their medical providers in discussing this issue. They are there to help.
Ways to Help with Postpartum Depression
Here are some ways to help mitigate those feelings and get support.
1. Building a Strong Support System
One of the fundamental steps in managing postpartum depression is establishing a robust support system. Surrounding yourself with understanding family members, friends, and healthcare professionals can significantly impact your recovery journey. Open and honest communication with loved ones can alleviate feelings of isolation and provide you with the emotional support you need.
2. Prioritizing Self-Care
Self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity, especially for new mothers dealing with postpartum depression. Taking time for yourself, even in small increments, can make a significant difference in your mental well-being. Engage in activities you enjoy, practice relaxation techniques, and ensure you’re getting proper sleep and nutrition.
3. Seeking Professional Help
If you suspect you’re experiencing postpartum depression, seeking professional help is essential. Consult with your primary care physician or obstetrician. Let your child’s doctor know you’re experiencing difficulties. Seek help from a mental health expert or a healthcare provider who specializes in maternal mental health. They can accurately diagnose your condition and recommend appropriate treatments, which may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
4. Engaging in Physical Activity
Regular physical activity has been shown to have positive effects on mental health. Engaging in light exercises such as walking, yoga, or swimming can help alleviate symptoms of postpartum depression. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, often referred to as “feel-good” hormones, which can enhance your mood and reduce feelings of sadness.
5. Nutrition and Diet
A balanced diet plays a crucial role in maintaining mental well-being. Focus on consuming nutrient-rich foods that provide essential vitamins and minerals. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, have been linked to improved mood. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar, as they can lead to energy crashes and mood swings.
6. Creating a Restful Sleep Environment
Sleep deprivation can exacerbate symptoms of postpartum depression. Create a sleep-conducive environment by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. If possible, take short naps during the day to recharge. Ask for help from others so you can get needed sleep and a break from taking care of the baby.
7. Mindfulness and Meditation
Practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques can significantly reduce stress and anxiety associated with postpartum depression. Consider dedicating a few minutes each day to meditation, deep breathing exercises, or guided imagery.
Increasing Awareness of Postpartum Depression
At Metropolitan Pediatrics, we’re committed to raising awareness about postpartum depression. We encourage everyone to learn about this condition and create a culture that is supportive and understanding of the mental health challenges new mothers often face.
Postpartum depression is a significant concern, but with understanding, support, and the right treatment, it’s entirely manageable. If you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please reach out for help.
Navigating Postpartum Depression: Additional Resources
For online support, Postpartum Support International provides a warm line for immediate assistance, weekly online meetings for new mothers, and a comprehensive directory of perinatal mental health professionals.
Remember, postpartum depression is not a journey you have to make on your own. There are many resources available, and seeking help is the first step towards healing.
Resources for More Information & Support
● Your Primary Care Pediatrician – Please feel free to talk to us about this.
● Your Personal Obstetrician
o 24-hour information/message line: 1-866-616-3752. You will receive a return call within 24 hours.
Books that May Help
● This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression, by Karen Kleiman and Valerie Raskin
● The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality, and What Really Matters, by Barnes and Balber
● Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, by Brooke Shields
● Mothering the New Mother: Your Postpartum Resource Companion, by Sally Placksin