It is so important to discuss, but unfortunately, isn’t discussed enough.
Thankfully, mental illness is becoming more “ok” to talk about, but I don’t think we as a culture are there yet.
So what is postpartum depression really?
Very simply, it is depression that occurs after having a baby.
What is the difference between postpartum depression and the common ‘baby blues?’
According to Mayo Clinic,
“Many new moms experience the ‘postpartum baby blues’ after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks.
But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis also may develop after childbirth.”¹
It is totally ‘acceptable’ to have mood swings and other hormonal shifts during pregnancy, so why can’t the world accept that these things also take place after pregnancy?
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms. If you settled on an average of 15% of four million live births in the US annually, this would mean approximately 600,000 women get PPD each year in the United States alone.”²
This is seriously low-balling it too since this number only includes live births, not miscarriages and stillbirths. And not only that, it is a self-reported number, so there are most likely thousands of women who haven’t even told anyone about it!
In fact, 1 in every 7 women experience a postpartum mood disorder of some sort such as postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis, and others.²
And what a lot of women don’t even recognize is that postpartum depression can occur anytime in the first 12 months after a child’s birth. It doesn’t have to be within the first few days or weeks to “count.” Childbirth is a seriously significant event in the life of a woman and to her body. There are so many changes that occur externally and internally, and some things will never return to how they were. Your brain is one of those things that can significantly change.
So what are the signs?
I will first start by listing the signs of the ‘baby blues:’
- Weepiness or crying for no apparent reason
- Insomnia (even when the baby is sleeping)
- Mood changes
- Poor concentration³
These signs will typically occur 4-5 days after your baby is born. They can affect 70-80% of all women who give birth. A woman can have “baby blues spells” throughout the day for a few minutes to a few hours at a time, and these feelings typically last no more than 2 weeks.
There is no known cause, but it could be related to the many hormonal shifts that take place at this time, or even just reality settling in after the “high” of your birth, and you are just trying to find a new routine and adapt to the many new changes in your life.
Here are the signs of postpartum depression:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide¹
As you can see, the signs of postpartum depression are similar to, but much more intense than, the baby blues. Postpartum depression is also longer lasting.
Postpartum psychosis is more rare, but much more serious than even postpartum depression. If you have any of the following signs, PLEASE call a doctor immediately:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Sleep disturbances
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby¹
The actual cause of the differing postpartum mood disorders is unclear. There are many risk factors to consider though, and if any of these risk factors apply to you, be aware that you may eventually need treatment for postpartum depression or another mood disorder.
- You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times
- You have bipolar disorder
- You had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy
- You have family members who’ve had depression or other mood stability problems
- You’ve experienced stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss
- Your baby has health problems or other special needs
- You have difficulty breast-feeding
- You’re having problems in your relationship with your spouse or significant other
- You have a weak support system
- You have financial problems
- The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted¹
All postpartum mood disorders need to be diagnosed by a doctor. If you have any symptoms of postpartum depression, please contact your doctor and ask to be seen.
Treatment options may include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Antidepressant medications
There is absolutely NO SHAME in getting the help that you need. Talking to a doctor takes a lot of strength and courage, but getting help will not only benefit you, but it will benefit your spouse and your baby.
Also, don’t let your doctor convince you that it isn’t depression if it actually is. If you KNOW that you aren’t yourself, and you KNOW that something is going on, SPEAK UP! You know you. Your doctor doesn’t know what your daily life looks like. Bring your spouse to the appointment if you need someone to speak on your behalf as well. Getting treatment as soon as possible is what will help you to feel happy again as quickly as you can.
I used to feel ashamed talking about my own personal history with depression and anxiety, but I have realized that it needs to be talked about! If my story can help someone take the step to getting treatment, I am more than willing to talk about my experiences.
I have always been someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety. In high school, my mood disorders started to emerge, but I never got treatment since I was just “being a teenager.”
I then got married at 19 to the most amazing and patient man under the sun. I have always been a little controlling and high maintenance, but I thought it was just my personality. Shortly after getting married though, my anxiety and depression got really bad.
I had gotten to the point where my husband couldn’t even talk to another woman without me losing it. My fears and anxiety were just that high. Guys, it was bad. And I have to add here that my husband was seriously doing nothing wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know that I was fabricating terrible things in my mind where there was just no truth to it.
I even started having panic attacks where I got deep pains by my heart where I couldn’t breathe or move without experiencing intense pain. Sometimes they only lasted 30-60 seconds, but at one point I had one while my husband was out of town and it lasted over 15 minutes and I thought I was having a heart attack. I called 911 because I didn’t know what else to do. I was in so much pain and couldn’t breathe, and in my mind, I felt like I was dying.
After being transported via an ambulance and going into the ER, I found out that there was nothing wrong with my heart. I realized (with the help of a friend who came with me to the ER), that I needed help.
I soon made an appointment with an internist to discuss my symptoms. I’ll admit, I didn’t think that my depression and anxiety were that bad. I had lived with it for so long, I thought that it was just who I was–my personality that I couldn’t change.
My doctor decided that medication was going to be the best course of action, so he started trying out some different medications. The first one worked really well for my brain. I could feel myself becoming someone new (the real me that I was supposed to be), but unfortunately, it had some awful GI side effects that I couldn’t live with. (What’s the point of being happy if you’re living in the bathroom?)
The next medication was awful. Awful actually doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was on it for about 10 days before I had to immediately stop it. The side effects came on relatively slowly, but thankfully my husband helped me realize what was happening. I started hallucinating, believing things were crawling on me when they weren’t, crying constantly, and I even started feeling suicidal. Thankfully I got off of it before anything serious happened.
We went on to a third medication. It was at about this time that I was wondering whether or not I was pregnant. My husband and I weren’t trying, but there were some issues taking place with my birth control, which made me think that I could be. The third medication though wasn’t safe for pregnancy. After a negative pregnancy test, I started the medication, and I couldn’t believe the mental shift that was taking place. I was beginning to feel positive and motivated, and it was an amazing feeling.
And then I took another pregnancy test.
It was positive! I was actually so excited because I was dying for a baby, but this meant that in the best interest of my baby, I chose to go off of the medication that I had been on for only 2 weeks.
At first it was ok. I had the pregnancy symptom of fatigue pretty hardcore, but nothing else was too bad. Eventually the depression and anxiety got out of hand again. Once I hit my third trimester, I realized that the pros of being on the medication outweighed the cons in my situation, so I went back to my internist and got back on the medication that was working before.
It wasn’t enough though.
After my son was born, I didn’t feel that outpouring of love that so many moms describe.
I wanted to love him. I wanted to be the best mom. I wanted to breastfeed him. I wanted to have all of those positive feelings, but I just didn’t.
I think my desire for those feelings helped to me to be able to take care of my son, but it was still affecting my ability to bond with him.
I can still remember standing in my kitchen while my son was asleep about a month after he was born, and feeling so ashamed as I told my husband about the feelings I was having. It was in great fear as I told him, since I was convinced that he would be mad at me!
But that just isn’t true.
How terrible was it that here I was as a new mom, doing the best that I could in the mental state that I was in, feeling afraid to get help?
I was afraid of the judgment I might feel.
I was afraid of the anger that my husband might have.
I was afraid of admitting that I didn’t love my son as much as I was supposed to because I was his mom! Moms are SUPPOSED to love their children. If they don’t, are they even real moms?
I’m here to tell you that you are.
You are a real mom, with real fears, real concerns, and real feelings.
Moms are superheroes because they have to do so much with so little in return, especially in those early weeks.
Don’t let shame or guilt keep you from getting the support and help you need.
I’m so happy to say that after some dosage shifts, I felt like me again. Even after the pregnancy and birth of my daughter, I was able to avoid postpartum depression with her because I knew that I was at risk, so I got help before the fact.
I’ll admit, I’m still on a low dosage antidepressant, but I have chosen to not let that affect how I view myself. I am a human and human brains and bodies aren’t perfect. I have accepted that fact, and I am doing what I need to do in order to be the best person I can be.
I’m not saying that if you are struggling with postpartum depression or depression of any kind that your answer will have to be medication, but that is the answer for me.
I still have my ups and downs (who doesn’t?) but I know that I am now a better mom and wife than I was before because I got help.
My final plea.
If you fear that you are struggling, or are going to struggle, with postpartum depression, or any kind of postpartum mood disorder, please talk to someone.
And if you are shamed into not getting the help you need, you need to have a serious talk with the person who is shaming you. That is NOT ok.
There is no weakness in having depression. IT HAPPENS. It does not make you a lesser woman or a lesser mom. It just makes you human. Get help, and don’t stop until you are finally feeling like yourself again.
Since lack of sleep and breastfeeding difficulties can be risk factors, make sure you check out my posts 5 Ways to Soothe a Crying Newborn and How to Have Success Breastfeeding. You can also subscribe and receive my free 5 Day Baby Sleep Mini Course. I am cheering you on, and I hope that I can help you in any way!
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