During pregnancy, mommy’s brain is filled with daydreams and excitement about the baby’s arrival, and the expected flood of emotions you will feel when you hold your newborn in your arms.
However, the reality is a cruel mistress who might make it so that you feel other emotions and your expectations are simply not met. You can feel sad, hopeless, and depressed after giving birth, and you may get confused, guilty, and upset about feeling this way.
These feelings are so common, and it is important that we are aware of just how common these feelings are and how much help is on offer for the women who experience them.
What is Postpartum Depression?
For most women, having a baby is an extremely exciting, joyous, and anxiety riddled time. However, it is not this way for every woman, and for those who suffer with postpartum depression, it can be a very distressing and difficult time.
The term postpartum depression refers to a depression that occurs during pregnancy and after childbirth, sometimes both, or only one time. It is a serious, yet treatment medical illness that involves a lot of negative emotion, including extreme sadness, indifferentness, and anxiety. It will also likely influence changes in energy, sleep, and appetite. This illness can carry risks not just for the mother, but also for her child.
It is very common, and it is actually estimated that a shocking one in seven women experience this.
Pregnancy and the period after birth can be a very vulnerable time for women. At this time mothers will tend to experience immense biological, emotional, financial, and even social changes. New mothers can be at a heightened risk for developing mental health issues at this time, especially depression and anxiety.
Not only this, but a majority of mothers will also experience something you might call ‘baby-blues’, which is a short-lasting condition that is not serious, but may include crying for no reason, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. However, this will only usually last a week or two.
Postpartum depression is different, in that it is both emotionally and physically debilitating, and can continue to be so for months or even more. Baby blues do not require treatment and will usually go away on their own, whereas postpartum depression usually requires treatment, otherwise, it can end up affecting both mother and baby.
Postpartum depression is more serious, and it is important that people are able to make the distinction between baby blues and postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression symptoms and signs
To be able to define whether it is postpartum depression or baby blues, here are some symptoms and signs that you, or your partner, are experiencing postpartum depression.
Find it hard to sleep
Many women will have trouble sleeping after birth, so this symptom can be very hard to pick up on, as it is so common to struggle with sleep after giving birth. However, this is a symptom, and it should be watched closely to see if it is simply an after effect of childbirth, or if it is the more sinister postpartum depression.
There are many other reasons that could also play a role in difficulty sleeping, so look at what other symptoms show up as well.
Changes in appetite
A change in appetite is also something else that many women will experience following childbirth as well. A woman’s hormones go crazy throughout the whole course of pregnancy and childbirth, so even taste buds may change and appetite too. So, this is something that is experienced by most women after childbirth, regardless of postpartum depression.
That being said, this is still a symptom of postpartum depression and should be watched closely. Like with the previous symptom, the best way to note if this is due to postpartum depression is to see if it is also accompanied by other other symptoms on this list, since it is so hard to detect as a symptom alone.
Again, another hard one. A low libido is another symptom of postpartum depression. However, it is exceptionally common for women to have a loss of sex drive after childbirth. Hormones are sporadic, and after something as intense as childbirth, with quite a significant amount of pain and strain in the sex organs, it is not a surprise that the libido would drop.
Yet, this too is a symptom of postpartum depression. Like generalized clinical depression, it can affect the woman’s urge to engage in any sexual activity. Like the two aforementioned symptoms, keep an eye on this and try to note if it is appearing alongside any other symptoms as well, to define if it is a symptom or just an after effect of the birth.
Fatigue is another symptom of postpartum depression. Yet this is also a symptom that shows up for many women following childbirth. It is yet another symptom that is very hard to detect. By fatigue, we do not mean any tiredness, this means severe fatigue. This means feeling fatigued all the time.
Do remember that feeling fatigued is not the same as feeling tired. It means to be in a mental and physical state of extreme tiredness, and with a lack of energy. Having this at a severe level is common in women after giving birth, however, women can also have this as part of postpartum depression, so it is worth looking out for it among other symptoms.
Postpartum depression develops very quickly, and it can hit very suddenly. Often occurring within the first two weeks after the baby has been born, and sometimes it can occur within 48 hours as well. There are many potential symptoms, yet one that most may not think would be a symptom is hallucinations.
This means it is totally possible that the mother may start seeing and hearing things that are not real. They may hallucinate seeing things or may start hearing voices in the time after the birth. This may sound incredibly drastic, however, it is common enough that it can cause problems, and of course is also distressing for the mother too.
Frequent change of mood
We all know that hormones can do unusual things to us, they can shift our mood suddenly, too. Yet, the mood changes that come with postpartum depression are much more severe and sporadic. The mood changes with postpartum depression can be aggressive and rapid. Not only may you feel agitated, depressed, angry, cranky, hopeless and so on, but it is also totally viable that you may also experience these feelings frequently.
A frequent change of mood can be distressing, especially if you do not notice it and others do. While you might expect a new mother to have mood swings due to hormones, with postpartum depression it is a bit beyond the standard PMS-style mood swings you might expect from a new mother.
Being ‘uninterested’ in your baby
One symptom that you may already have heard of is a lack of interest in the baby. This is probably one of the better-known symptoms of postpartum depression. This refers to not only being uninterested in the baby, but also possibly feeling like you are not bonding with them, or like you are incapable of doing so.
You may hear stories where the partner is annoyed at the lack of interest that the mother has in her child. This is just a mother going through postpartum depression. Similarly, if the mother may get weepy and upset, feeling as though they are not bonding with their child, this is also a symptom worth noting.
Crying a lot
Most biological females will be all too familiar with feeling weepy, and crying for no reason. Hormones are the worst and can simply make you so emotional, it’s annoying too. However, when this symptom shows up in postpartum depression, crank it up a notch from PMS symptoms. With postpartum depression, you might cry all the time, or often and usually for no reason.
This overflow of emotion is aggressive and often spontaneous and illogical in a sense, or at least it seems to be. Of course, the logic is that it is due to postpartum depression, but if it is not known that this is causing it, the crying might seem really illogical. It is worth noting this in any new mom.
Severe anger and a depressed mood
We all have moments where we feel really angry, maybe we just had a really bad day, and sometimes we feel really depressed, and we just want to sleep through the day. Everyone has these moments. However, having it for days, weeks, or even months is exhausting. And, for some women with postpartum depression, this is exactly how it is for them.
Feeling angry and depressed when you are not sure why is stressful. Postpartum depression really messes with your emotions and makes you feel things you would not usually feel in those situations.
If a new mom is feeling really depressed and seems really snappy and angry, it is possible it’s postpartum depression making a show.
Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
As it is notable in any form of depression, the worthlessness and hopelessness eventually sinks in. If you pile up all the symptoms, or even half the symptoms we have already listed, the emotional load is heavy, and that is a lot to carry internally, as well as being a new mom.
So, with this heavy emotional load, the worthlessness and hopelessness will start to creep in. Of course, many new moms might experience this to some degree even without postpartum depression, especially if they are a first-time parent, due to the stress of being a new parent and being self-conscious about doing best by the child.
However, the feelings can be even more heavy for someone with postpartum depression.
Suicidal thoughts and thoughts of hurting someone
It is no wonder that the woman may start to feel a bit suicidal, especially if she is dealing with all this we have listed above. She may think about self harm or even death a lot as the stress and depression becomes more and more intense.
However, with postpartum depression, it may not only be herself she thinks about hurting, she may think about hurting others as well. This can very sadly often be thoughts of hurting or killing their baby.
This is not out of any inherent psychopathy, it is simply a symptom and sign that postpartum depression is present. These mothers do genuinely love their baby, the hormones and mental health issues they are battling with simply create these thoughts.
Finding it hard to concentrate
Finally, one of the other symptoms a new mom with postpartum depression may have is difficulty concentrating. This can also present itself as confusion or disorientation. They may also have difficulty making decisions as well.
You could relate this to ‘baby brain’ during the pregnancy, and left over hormones, so it is not exclusive to postpartum depression. However, it is a symptom. Of course, should the mother also be having trouble sleeping as well as part of postpartum depression, then the difficulty concentrating can also be chalked up to not getting enough rest for sufficient brain function.
Many of these are dependent on the situation. Yet it is important to keep an eye out for these issues.
Postpartum depression causes
There is no way to say if a woman will or will not get postpartum depression, however, like many medical situations, there are a select few risk factors that will make it more likely that a woman will get postpartum depression. Here are some of the risk factors.
Having a history of depression
Having a history of depression will increase your likelihood of getting postpartum depression. This speaks for itself due to the chemicals in the brain and how they react, not to mention the endless rise and fall of hormones that happen during pregnancy and after birth. You are simply more susceptible.
If you have a history of depression, or any mental health problems in the past, it is always worth talking to your midwife about it and discussing it with your doctor as it means you are more at risk, and catching any potential for postpartum depression early gets you one step ahead to preventing it from becoming a bigger issue later on.
Family history of depression or mood disorders
Similarly, if there is any history of depression or mood disorders in your family (especially your female side) then this is something to be wary of as it is also a risk factor. It is also worthwhile finding out if any female relative suffered from postpartum depression as well, as this can be a tip off to discovering if your bloodline is likely to suffer from postpartum depression.
Of course, any mood disorders can be a warning sign that you are more at risk, but a history of postpartum depression in the family can be a bigger tip off. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns relating to mood disorders and a history of depression in the family.
Having twins or triplets
Mothers of multiple births are more at risk of getting postpartum depression. This means mothers who have already had multiple children, as well as mothers who give birth to twins or triplets.
Twins are more likely to be cared for in the neonatal unit at a hospital, which can increase risks. Of course, it is also more likely due to the lack of sleep, which is doubled with more than one baby to care for. Twin pregnancies are also more prone to complications, and the birth can also be more difficult too. This means mothers of twins begin motherhood already exhausted.
Age of the pregnancy (the younger you are, the more likely it is to happen)
It is believed that if you are on either side of the age to give birth, you are more susceptible to postpartum depression too. So having a baby in your teen years, or past 35 years of age, are both more susceptible to getting postpartum depression.
This does not mean that between those ages you will be fine, but these age groups are more at risk. Women of advanced maternal age are significantly more likely to experience postpartum depression, but younger mothers are also more likely to get it as well.
Of course, this is not the only factor that can come into play, but it is one of them. If you fit into either of these age groups, it is worth speaking to your midwife, and doctor if you have any concerns.
Going through stressful events
We all know that stress during pregnancy is not good for the baby, but it is not good for mom either. Stressful events during the pregnancy, and after the birth, can put extra strain on an already very stressed mom. This can lead to postpartum depression.
Stressful events can be a conflict with your partner, moving house very soon after the birth, or even during the time around the birth, a death in the family, financial issues and so on. Any stress can affect a woman during pregnancy and the period after birth, and while we often prioritize its effect on the baby, it can also have a significant impact on mom and her mental health.
Limited social support
It is no secret that being alone and lonely can be a huge source of stress. You do not only need social support to help you care for the baby, especially if one person is working and the other is looking after the baby. But, you also require contact with other grown-ups. Being able to have conversations with other people and talk about our feelings and what is going on is a vital part of our lives that can help keep our mental health in check.
During this period of time, it is even more vital that we have a solid social circle, be it made of friends or family. These people can be what can hold postpartum depression for new moms, while their partner is significant as well, having others around is really imperative.
Conflict within the relationship
Relationship conflict is not a good thing on a normal day, but when you have a new baby, it is even worse. Stress, as we said earlier, can be a trigger for postpartum depression, and what is more stressful than relationship conflicts with your partner during the time after birth.
It is important that both parties remember that they are in this together to raise this child, and that mom is going through some crazy hormones as well. Conflict in a relationship at this time can not only trigger postpartum depression, but it can make the first months with your child even harder.
Living alone is not always healthy, while it can suit some, socializing is needed. It is actually known that loneliness is one of the things that can trigger dementia in older people. Well, it can also trigger postpartum depression in new moms as well. Feeling overwhelmed after the birth and having to do everything alone is a huge burden, and it can simply be too much for some moms, leading to that stress we mentioned earlier.
This stress and loneliness will eventually trigger depression, postpartum or otherwise. If you think of the symptoms we mentioned earlier, many of these can also be experienced due to loneliness, which can highlight exactly why living alone can be a trigger for postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression treatment and prevention
If you do get postpartum depression, you are not alone, and you are not helpless. There is plenty of treatment out there for you and there are also ways you can work to prevent it if you are worried you may be an at-risk person.
You do not have to wait until after childbirth to seek out help for postpartum depression, you can do things before your baby is born to help work to prevent it from being a risk. If you are high risk, this is definitely a good idea.
Ask for help
Asking for help is the first step to preventing postpartum depression. Ask your doctor and your midwife for help, and also do not be afraid to ask friends and family for help and support as well. Build yourself a support circle for during and after the pregnancy to help you feel secure, safe, and prevent any burnouts or loneliness.
Get monitored during pregnancy for symptoms
Your doctor can monitor you for symptoms during the pregnancy. You can also manage mild depression symptoms with support groups, counseling and so on. You can also get prescribed medications to help, even while you are pregnant. Do not be afraid to use these services to help you.
If you start to worry about it after the birth of your baby, you can still do many things to prevent it becoming a bigger issue. Some of the things you can do are very basic. Remember that less is more, you do not always need to go overboard, the smallest thing can make a difference.
Be realistic about expectations
It is not uncommon for new moms to have high expectations when they finally meet their baby. Sometimes these expectations are a breeding ground for depression. Being careful not to be unrealistic will help stop this from being a trigger.
Exercising can help to release those good hormones into your brain and can be effective as some medications in combating depression. Slowly ease back into it, even a 30-minute walk a day will do you so much good, and you’ll get that happy vitamin D from some sunlight too!
Follow an appropriate diet
This doesn’t mean you should say goodbye to those comfort foods entirely but making sure you get the correct nutrition will help to fight off depression. What you eat does have an impact on your mood and the quality of your breast milk too, so try to maintain good eating habits.
Foster a relationship with your partner
Remember that you and your partner are in this together. Don’t scapegoat problems that you may face as new parents, remember to communicate, and make time for date night, even if it’s only once every two weeks, keeping your relationship strong will help you feel more secure in your journey through parenthood.
Keep in touch with family and friends
Stay in touch with family and friends too, these people will not only be grateful for your time, but they can also be an amazing support system when you are in need. This doesn’t mean they can babysit all the time, but they will always listen to your problems, and help if they can. Keep these people close by.
Limit visitors when you first go home
When you first go home, you and the baby need to settle in, it is time for your family. So, in the first few days, or even weeks, limit visitors. Make sure that you set boundaries with people and only allow them over once you feel more settled in and have adapted to a new routine with your baby.
Rest when your baby sleeps
Getting enough sleep is so important to your mental health, and while a new baby will often be a real hurdle in trying to achieve that, try sleeping or resting when the baby does, grow accustomed to their sleep pattern, and you may find you sleep more, and sleep better.
Medical treatment if it gets severe
Sometimes, you can use every self-help technique there is, friends and family can be amazing, but you still struggle. If you are still struggling with postpartum depression, there are plenty of ways that you can treat it.
Therapy or marriage counseling
A good therapist can help you deal with the adjustments into motherhood, and will talk you through the emotions you are feeling and any difficulties you are having. Similarly, if you are experiencing any marital difficulties, or if you do not feel supported at home, then marriage counseling can be really useful.
In cases where postpartum depression starts to affect your ability to function properly, or if your baby is compromised, antidepressants are an option. Medications like this do need to be properly monitored by a doctor and should be accompanied by psychotherapy as well, as this combination seems to work best.
Do not feel worried or anxious about choosing this as a method to treat postpartum depression, it is much more common than you may think, and it can really help you bring you out of the dark place you can get sunk into.
Finally, estrogen replacement therapy can assist in fighting postpartum depression. It is best used alongside an antidepressant. There are risks that can go alongside hormone therapy, so it is best that you discuss this with your doctor about what is safest for you.
Usually, this is an option if the first two do not have a significant enough effect.
Postpartum depression is very common in new mothers, and there are plenty of risk factors that make it so. Many of the symptoms often share similarities with the basic effects of being a new mom. However, postpartum depression is a real and sometimes very severe problem.
There are many ways you can treat postpartum depression, you can treat it through self-care, and seeking out help and support prior to or after the birth of your child, or you can seek out more help from your doctor after the birth as well. Whatever path you decide to take, neither is wrong.
Postpartum depression is not only an issue for the mother, but it can be an issue for the child as well, and of course, it can cause complications in the relationship between the parents as well due to the emotional struggle around it. At the first sign, or if you feel worried, or if you are at risk of getting postpartum depression, always seek out help at first concern, it is better to combat it straight away, rather than wait until it gets unbearable.