Postpartum Depression Awareness
By Silvia Carli-Reese MS, RD, CSCS
Welcoming a new baby is supposed to be one of the happiest and most exciting moments of our entire lives — or, at least, that’s what society tells us. For many new moms, the aftermath of giving birth is far more complicated than we’re led to believe. One minute, you’re on cloud nine, enjoying those precious newborn baby snuggles and admiring your little one’s tiny, perfect fingers and toes. Five minutes later, you’re crying and can’t figure out why, or you’re battling ugly, intrusive, distracting thoughts about harming yourself or your baby. These feelings can make you feel like there’s something deeply wrong with you, but what you’re experiencing is actually very common. Today, I want to talk a little about postpartum depression (and related mood disorders) and how you can move past it. You’re not alone, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
What is Postpartum Depression?
Let’s start with a brief description of postpartum depression (PPD). You should know from the get-go that it’s different from the “baby blues,” which are milder and more transitory. Postpartum depression signs and symptoms include a depressed mood, frequent crying, anxiety and/or panic attacks, a loss of appetite (or overeating), insomnia, and more. The baby blues generally last for just a few days or weeks, while PPD symptoms can persist for months if not treated.
For more information, you can check out a more comprehensive list of postpartum depression symptoms, as well as a full list of perinatal and postpartum mood disorders. You should note that these mood disorders can hit during pregnancy as well as following delivery, and they can affect dads as well as new and expecting mothers. Additionally, PPD and other mood disorders can strike up to one year after having your baby. That first year is a challenge, even if this isn’t your first baby, so be mindful of how you’re feeling from day to day.
If you think you could be suffering from perinatal or postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, or another mood disorder, don’t wait. Call your OB or general practitioner immediately to ask for help. If you’re having distressing thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby, tell your partner or call 911 right away.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
So why do we get postpartum depression when we’re supposed to be so happy? You should know that it’s not your fault, and it’s not because you’re ungrateful for your new baby. Giving birth is an intense, exhausting process, and your hormone levels change drastically as soon as the baby is out. You’re tired from giving birth and most likely sore, too — and now you have a brand-new helpless human who depends entirely on you. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed, under-slept, and maybe unshowered too. Your breasts are swollen, you’re leaking milk, and you still look six months pregnant. You may be struggling to breastfeed, or you and your baby may be so good at it that you’re doing it nonstop. It’s no surprise that you may start to feel sad, restless, and completely unlike the regular you.
If you had an especially difficult or stressful pregnancy and delivery, that also can contribute to a postpartum mood disorder. In my case, consistently elevated blood pressure near the end of my third trimester led my OB to induce me at thirty-seven weeks. My beautiful baby boy was delivered safely, but I had to take blood pressure medication for an additional two weeks after giving birth to prevent postpartum preeclampsia. I found myself crying frequently without understanding why, despite the love and support my husband and family provided.
If your pregnancy or birth is complicated by a serious issue like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or severe COVID-19, don’t underestimate the toll it can take. Your body and mind have been through something unfamiliar and difficult, and they’re responding accordingly. Give yourself time to rest and recover, and accept help when it’s offered.
It Gets Better: Postpartum Depression Treatment
The good news is that postpartum depression and other perinatal and postpartum mood disorders are very treatable. Personally, therapy helped me work through my issues and begin to feel like myself again. My PPD didn’t disappear instantly, but I began to feel a little better each day. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of a perinatal or postpartum mood disorder, finding a mental health care provider is a great place to begin. It doesn’t make you weak to seek professional help, and needing some expert support after childbirth is extremely common.
You may be wondering if there’s such a thing as postpartum depression medication. In some cases, PPD and related disorders do not respond to therapy alone. After careful consideration, you and your doctor may decide that using an antidepressant is the appropriate course of action. Be sure to let your doctor know if you’re breastfeeding so that they can prescribe a medication that is considered safe for your baby. Only trace amounts of these medications are present in breastmilk, so they’re generally approved for breastfeeding mothers.
In addition to talk therapy and medication, you can ramp up your basic self-care practices to help send your PPD symptoms packing. Remember how I said that you should accept help when it’s offered? Now is a great time to allow your partner or best friend to snuggle your baby while you grab a hot shower and a long nap. If your parents can’t wait to babysit their new grandchild, use the time to do some light postpartum exercise, like a walk in the fresh air. When friends or neighbors offer to bring you a hot meal, ask for something healthy and hearty, like these healthy chicken and pasta recipes.
Above all, be kind to yourself. It’s so easy to chastise yourself for feeling depressed when you should be thrilled and so very grateful for your new bundle of joy. Remember that having PPD doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby. It means you just survived an exhausting, uncomfortable, sometimes downright agonizing nine-month journey and are feeling off-balance. It’s okay to ask for help, and it doesn’t make you a bad mother. In fact, getting the support you need to recover from a postpartum mood disorder can help you to be the wonderful mom you’ve always wanted to be. Hang in there!
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