So the baby has arrived! Family and friends are coming by with gifts and congratulations on your achievement. The dream you wished came through with the birth of your new child. So why are you sad and sometimes crying? Even for experienced new mothers, an unexpected wave of anxiety, sadness and irritability hits after the baby comes. No one expects to get depressed but it can happen to any new mother without warning.
There are three levels of postpartum depression, and these are discussed below.
Why does this happen? It can be because a new mother’s body is going through tremendous changes during and after pregancy. Being fatigued and feeling overwhelmed, it’s natural to get a little depressed. Other factors can also contribute to this depression: the many bodily changes you are experiencing, illness, difficulties during your pregnancy, changes in your family’s finances, unrealistic expectations of childbirth and parenting, perhaps unresolved issues from your own childhood, an unexpected pregnancy and insufficient social or emotional support. Some degree of depressed mood affects almost all new mothers.
There are three levels of postpartum depression:
“Baby Blues” This describes a mild forum of depression, affecting more than 80 percent of new mothers and lasts a few days to several weeks. Contributing factors may include some or all of the following:
Disappointment about not having the mythical “perfect birth,” although virtually all births result in some unexpected outcome. A response to postpartum pain or discomfort. A letdown from an exciting event. Concerns about dealing with your new baby or surprise about the amount of work involved in caring for the baby.
Symptoms of “baby blues” include episodes of anxiety, sadness, crying, headaches, exhaustion, feeling unworthy and irritability. The blues can occur within a day or two after the birth, or they may not surface for several weeks. You’ll get over baby blues more quickly if you get extra rest, good nourishment, walks outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and some help caring for yourself and your baby.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) This affects between 10 to 20 percent of all women who have just given birth and is more common among second-time moms than first-time moms. PPD is a treatable form of depression. This depression is different from the “blues” we all feel from time to time as it is a physical illness affecting the brain. Just like other organs in your body — your heart, lungs and kidneys, for example — your brain also can become ill. When it’s your appendix that’s acting up, you feel physical pain, because the nerve fibers that come from your appendix send “pain” signals. When it’s the area of the brain that generates emotions, you feel emotional changes, because the nerve fibers that come from your brain send “emotional” signals. You can’t think your way into or out of these feelings any more than your can think yourself into or out of the pain of appendicitis.
You may be having PPD if you feel a sense of sadness that doesn’t go away or frequent mood swings, anxiety or guilt.
You can distinguish PPD from other depression by the fluctuations: a good day followed by several bad days and back to another good day.
PPD usually begins from two weeks to three months after your baby is born. Your most effective preventive tool is educating yourself about PPD. If you’re struggling with PPD, seek out information and support to overcome the sense of isolation, depression, fear or even guilt. The sooner you realize you have PPD and do something about it, the better your chances for treating and curing the problem. Because PPD is a physical illness, doctors use medications to relieve its symptoms. Don’t feel ashamed if you have to take medication to help you. Be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor if you think you might have PPD. Make sure you get it under control before you fall into this:
Postpartum Psychosis This is the most rare and more severe form of post partum depression. Some women who have postpartum psychosis have never had any prior psychiatric illness, and others have experienced depression previously. Some have experienced a recent significant loss, divorce or separation, abuse or a difficult birth. Others have a perfectionist personality.
Postpartum psychosis may begin within days or weeks after a baby’s birth. The symptoms are the same as those of PPD, but more extreme. Women with postpartum psychosis are severely depressed and may be confused, paranoid and unable to function. Times when they can think clearly may be interspersed with periods when they can’t. Postpartum psychosis can be life-threatening. Women with this condition may consider harming themselves, their baby or others. They might or might not realize that they are having problems, and they may be able or unwilling to seek treatment.
It’s important to recognize postpartum psychosis as early as possible. It’s critically important to seek medical help if you suspect that you or someone you know may have this problem. Depression and confused thinking can be very frightening to experience or to observe in a friend. It’s important to know that waiting and hoping for improvement are not enough and that medical treatment is likely to be very helpful.
It’s also helpful to know that the feelings of depression after birth are common, they aren’t your fault and you can feel normal again. Explore and accept your feeling without judgement. Discuss whether your expectations are appropriate. Allow yourself to grieve over unfulfilled expectations, and try to let go of guilt you may feel. Take a look at the other stresses in your life; do what you can to relieve or postpone them until you’re handling things well again. Also recognize that you may need treatment or medication to help you function and relieve your symptoms. Ask your doctor about support groups available in your area for new mothers. It can be helpful to talk with another new mother who has faced problems you’re experiencing and can guide and reassure you. For additional information on “blues,” depression and psychosis that can follow birth, contact:
Postpartum Support International
927 North Kellogg Avenue
Santa Barbara, California 93111
From 8 AM to 8 PM, Pacific standard time)