The birth of a baby is big news and can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions, like excitement and joy. But it can also result in something you’d ever expect – depression.
Most new mothers experience postpartum, otherwise known as “baby blues,” after childbirth. It commonly includes mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery and may last two weeks.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a complex mix of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes in some women after giving birth. According to the DSM-5, a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, PPD is a form of major depression that begins within 4 weeks after delivery. The diagnosis of postpartum depression is based not only on the length of time between delivery and onset but on the severity of the depression.
Postpartum depression is linked to chemical, social, and psychological changes that happen when having a baby. The term describes a range of physical and emotional changes that many new mothers experience. PPD can be treated with medication and counseling.
Symptoms of PPD
• 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 suicide.
There isn’t one single cause or predictor of postpartum depression; Rather, it is caused by a combination of complex factors. Here are some of the culprits:
Women make jokes and hear endless flippant remarks about “hormones,” but the truth is that they are real and they are powerful. Many physiological changes occur during and after pregnancy in many ways, and they are miraculous. In other ways, they wreak havoc.
More specifically, estrogen and progesterone are significantly elevated during pregnancy. Then, they rapidly return to normal levels within 24 hours of childbirth. It is a massive adjustment for a woman’s brain chemistry to adapt to all these changes. So, it is the primary contributor to postpartum depression.
2. Lifestyle Factors
Some of the practical challenges of parenting a newborn exacerbate the hormonal effects, and the net result can be postpartum depression. These include:
• Lack of sleep
• The added stress of parenting a newborn
• Added challenges in the parental relationship
• Loss of flexibility/free time
• Lack of a sound support system
• Lack of time to exercise
• Poor nutrition
• A strong desire or pressure to be the “perfect parent”/Type A personality
3. Social Factors
Teen moms and women who are in poverty have higher rates of postpartum depression. It’s likely that the added stress experienced by these groups of women as they enter motherhood exacerbates the other factors and leads to their increased risk of postpartum depression.
4. Medical History and Genetics
Just as with traditional depression, there is a genetic component, and women who have a family history of depression or postpartum depression are at an elevated risk to struggle with the illness themselves. Similarly, women who have suffered from depression in the past have a higher likelihood of working post-birth, as well as women who experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) with their regular menstrual cycles. PMDD is an extreme form of PMS and indicates a woman’s chemical brain response to hormonal fluctuations.
3 Ways To Overcome Postpartum Depression
1. Develop Support
Be open about your struggle with postpartum depression with other mothers in your social circle. While you might have to battle the illness, you do not have to fight shame. Think about it – if as many as one in five women suffers from postpartum depression, the likelihood that you know women who have gone through it is incredibly high.
Secondly, Make it a priority to spend time with friends and family. While it might not be possible to do everything you did pre-baby, gathering with others in a social setting is healthy. If you don’t have a lot of friends who are mothers, contact your birthing hospital or your obstetrician and ask them about local parent/baby groups in the area. They are a great way to connect socially (and commiserate about the challenges of parenting a baby) with other moms.
You may also want to consider a local support group for women struggling with postpartum depression. These are very supportive, non-threatening groups that allow you to learn more about the illness, what it looks like in everyday life and feel less alone in your struggle. They are also a wealth of information on local professional resources to help you. You don’t need a diagnosis to attend – they welcome all new mothers. Ask your local hospital, doctor, or obstetrician for help finding one in your local area.
2. Make Simple Lifestyle Adjustments
There are a few things you can do to try and combat postpartum depression on your own. These include:
• Ask your partner to take an overnight feeding (pump if you’re nursing) to help you get a longer stretch of restorative sleep
• Schedule regular exercise
• Get outside in the sunshine and go on walks
• Pay attention to your nutrition; eat healthily
• Find ways to exercise regularly
• Eat a small piece of dark chocolate (yes, really!)
• Seek Professional Help
3. Counseling or talk therapy
Counseling or talk therapy with a professional has been proven to be incredibly helpful in treating postpartum depression. A counselor or therapist can not only help you work through the major lifestyle transition of adding a newborn to your family, but they can also walk alongside you and help you to find ways to implement some of the lifestyle changes listed above – because it can seem overwhelming to do it on your own.
Healing is available for postpartum depression, and no mother should feel shame for pursuing treatment for this medical condition. It is real, it is expected, and it is treatable. Don’t face postpartum depression alone. Get help from a professional.
You don’t have to go through this alone all by yourself. Postpartum depression is a common illness that can be treated in many ways. If you are struggling after the birth of a baby, seek help. Take action. Call your doctor. Contact a counselor, open up to people. A child’s birth is a joyous part of your life, and PPB shouldn’t ruin it.