The postpartum period is a time that’s meant to be euphoric, but for 1 in 7 new moms, that’s not the case. For too many, this illness goes undetected because others don’t understand the way a person suffering is feeling. Many individuals suffering from postpartum depression may feel guilty about their feelings because society characterizes the postpartum period as one of never-ending joy. This can stop moms from seeking the help they need. By bringing awareness to this illness it will help break the stigma and encourage others to seek help.
Experiencing the “baby blues,” a period of brief sadness or depression following birth is normal for many women. These feelings will subside quickly, typically in a few days or within a week. However, it’s important to be aware of the possibility that you are experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). PPD varies from woman to woman, but can often be characterized as feelings of extreme sadness or anxiety following birth. Some additional symptoms include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
- Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
- Worrying or feeling overly anxious
- Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
- Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when her baby is asleep
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Experiencing anger or rage
- Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Suffering from physical aches and pains, including frequent headaches, stomach problems, and muscle pain
- Eating too little or too much
- Withdrawing from or avoiding friends and family
- Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with her baby
- Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby
- Thinking about harming herself or her baby
If symptoms such as these continue for more than a week, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider. While you may be embarrassed to feel this way, speaking to your doctor is the best way to get help.
PPD does not have a single cause but is likely a result of both physical and emotional factors. Most importantly PPD is not caused because of something the mother does or does not do. Following childbirth, levels of hormones drop very quickly in women, these chemical changes can trigger mood swings. Additionally, many new moms can struggle to get the rest they need to fully recover and this can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which often contribute to or worsens symptoms of PPD.
The type of treatment and recovery time for PPD can vary based on the individual. It will be important for new moms to get as much rest as possible, accept help from family and friends, connect with other new moms, take the time to care for herself and avoid any alcohol or drugs that can amplify mood swings. Your healthcare provider will discuss additional treatments and options based on your symptoms and help you choose the best treatment. Common forms of treatment are counseling/talk therapy and medication.
If you suspect you are suffering from PPD, don’t face it alone. It’s important to talk openly about your feelings with family and friends. PPD is not your fault, but it is real and it is treatable. It’s also important for loved ones to reach out to new moms and really ask how they are feeling. The more we can raise awareness about PPD, the quicker new moms can receive help!
Dr. Chad Abbey (DO), Billings OB-GYN Associates