By Lisa Pecos
Pregnancy and the months following the birth of a baby can be emotionally turbulent times. For most women it is a time of joy and excitement, but it is not uncommon to feel some anxiety and fear. This comes from the basic fact that having a baby is a major life change, and change is always frightening. But for some new mothers, normal feelings of fear and anxiety can grow into something akin to clinical depression. This affliction, which is believed to affect between 5% and 25% of all new mothers, is known as postpartum depression.
What is normal?
Many mothers are surprised by the powerful feelings they experience after giving birth. In many cases, a new mother feels lonely and upset, and these feelings do not seem to match up with the beautiful thing that has happened. In this case, the mother may wonder why these feelings are happening at all, and she may experience guilt for not feeling happy to have been blessed with a baby.
In addition to having feelings of anxiety and sadness, new mothers commonly feel angry at their babies, partners, or other family members. They may cry for seemingly no reason, have difficulty sleeping, and experience doubts as to whether they can actually handle caring for the new baby. These feelings are surprisingly common, but they usually go away within a week.
When is it postpartum depression?
In more serious cases-when the feelings do not fade after a week or so-these post-birth blues turn into postpartum depression. While postpartum depression may seem like an extension of the normal post-birth baby blues, in many cases the real symptoms do not begin until weeks or even months after the birth. You may have postpartum depression if you have noticed any of these signs or symptoms:
- Depression, anxiety, or anger continues for two weeks or more.
- Early baby blues go away but return with intensity weeks or months later.
- Your feelings of sadness, anger, or self-doubt interfere with your everyday functioning.
- Your feelings prevent you from caring for your baby as well as you can.
- Your appetite changes.
- You have trouble sleeping.
- You no longer get pleasure from the things you used to enjoy.
- You experience panic attacks.
- You have difficulty bonding with the new baby.
- You fear that your intense feelings may lead you to harm the baby.
- You have had thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
If you have experienced any of these symptoms, talk to a doctor right away. The earlier you begin to treat your condition, the faster your recovery will be.
Why does it happen?
There are a few aspects of the post-birth time that can combine to worsen the typical baby blues. For one thing, sharp hormonal changes after birth can lead to a roller coaster of feelings and can even make you feel extra tired and depressed. Meanwhile, many new mothers are simply worn out from the process of giving birth. And since new parents often lose sleep in the early weeks of the baby’s life, it is common for poor sleep patterns to exacerbate any negative feelings.
Postpartum depression can also flare up when the mother is particularly stressed out. For example, if you have to go back to work sooner than you are ready, or if you are having financial troubles, this can turn normal feelings of doubt into all-out depression.
Postpartum depression tends to be worse in mothers who exhibit any of these risk factors:
- A history of depression or other mental disorders.
- Stressful events during the past year, such as the loss of a job, a death in the family, or financial hardship.
- A weak or nonexistent support system.
- Problems with a spouse.
- The pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted.
Although there are these risk factors, no one is immune. Postpartum depression affects women of all ages and from all social and economic backgrounds, and it should be taken seriously even if you do not have a history of depression. If you suspect you have postpartum depression, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.