Having a baby is one of the most joy-filled moments of a woman’s life – in theory, at least.
As the pressures of motherhood mount and the reality of being responsible for the wellbeing of a largely helpless little human set in, many new mothers can feel varying degrees of sadness, anxiety and exhaustion.
Known as postpartum depression, this disorder is widely considered a complication of childbirth – one that can often interfere with a mother’s ability to care for themselves, let alone their babies. Unfortunately, while incredibly common, there’s also a stigma around it that prevents many women from seeking help. And, without proper treatment, it can affect a woman’s health and happiness for years.
Here are six important things that every new mother should know about postpartum depression:
You’re Not Alone
Postpartum depression is very common. However, because of the stigma surrounding it – and mental illness, in general – it’s hard to know exactly how many new mothers suffer from the condition. Conservative estimates are that 1 in 9 new mothers will experience postpartum depression, while, in some areas of the country, that number can be as high as 1 in 5.
It Can Include More than Just Depression Symptoms
What we call postpartum depression is actually only one of many mood disorders that result from pregnancy or childbirth. While depression is common, so is anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors; the wide range of symptoms a woman may experience is one of the reasons it often goes untreated.
Some signs and symptoms associated with postpartum depression include:
- Feeling sad, overwhelmed or numb
- Feeling overly anxious or experiencing panic attacks
- Feeling moody, restless, irritable or angry
- Crying often or for no apparent reason
- Having difficulty bonding with your baby
- Difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly or making decisions
- Oversleeping or insomnia
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Doubting your ability to be a good mother
Postpartum Depression Isn’t the Same as “The Baby Blues”
An estimated 75% of new mothers will experience a period of sadness or mood swings after giving birth, referred to as “the baby blues.” A mother may experience periodic episodes of sadness beginning a few days after giving birth; however, unlike postpartum depression, it tends to last only a couple weeks. While the exact cause of the baby blues is unknown, lack of sleep, hormonal changes and the stress of new motherhood may play a factor.
Diagnosis Doesn’t Mean You’re a Danger to Your Baby
When we hear about postpartum depression in the news or on TV, we tend to hear about mothers who have, sadly, caused harm to themselves and their babies. However, this is not at all typical of the condition. Called postpartum psychosis, this extreme form of postnatal mood disorder only affects 1 in 1000 new mothers, typically within 2-4 weeks after delivery.
Its Effects Aren’t Limited to the Weeks After Birth
While symptoms typically begin to show within the first couple weeks after giving birth, it’s not uncommon for mothers-to-be to experience symptoms throughout pregnancy or new mothers to experience symptoms up to a year after birth. And, if left untreated, a woman may suffer from postpartum depression for years.
Help is Out There
If you or a loved one are struggling with postpartum depression, it’s important to know that you don’t have to suffer in silence. Postpartum depression symptoms can be so debilitating that they can completely overshadow the joy of this special time of your life. Society puts a lot of pressure on women – new mothers, especially – and these feelings that you’re having are neither your fault nor anything to be embarrassed about.
Help is available. At South Shore Health, we offer a whole host of programs designed to give new moms the support they need to identify and overcome postpartum depression. In addition to new mom support groups, lactation consultants, and a perinatal behavioral health program, this fall, we will be introducing universal screenings to identify new moms who may be at increased risk of postpartum depression so they can get the care they need before it affects their transition into motherhood.
If you have symptoms that last more than two weeks and are making it difficult to care for yourself or your baby, talk to your primary care provider, obstetrician or mental health professional. With proper support and treatment, you can overcome postpartum depression.