From baby blues to depression: What to know about managing your mental health after childbirth
Bringing home a new baby can be one of the happiest experiences in a woman’s life, full of smiles and sunshine. However, for many new mothers, the experience is not always as sunny as they expect.
Understanding the baby blues
In fact, most new mothers will feel sad, suffer mood swings, or experience other negative feelings. This condition is commonly referred to as the baby blues and—according to the March of Dimes—affects nearly 80% of postpartum women. Usually, symptoms arise within the first few days of giving birth and go away on their own within a couple of weeks.
Symptoms of baby blues include:
- Reduced concentration
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
- Appetite problems
You may start feeling the baby blues a few days after giving birth. But they aren’t a sign that anything is wrong with you or that you don’t love your baby. These symptoms simply are the result of hormonal and other changes that normally happen postpartum.
After delivery, estrogen and progesterone levels rapidly decrease, which causes mood swings. Thyroid hormone levels may also decline, contributing to fatigue and depression. Along with the fluctuating hormone levels, you may be nervous or stressed about taking care of your new little one and be recovering physically from the birth of your baby. All these changes and emotions are compounded by lack of sleep and poor nutrition, which often inevitably come with new parenthood.
There’s no need to worry. Baby blues are a mild, temporary form of depression that resolves when your hormone levels stabilize in a few weeks. You can help it along by making sure you get enough sleep, eat properly, exercise regularly (with your doctor’s consent), and take time to relax.
When it’s more than the baby blues
But for some mothers, this isn’t the case. Their symptoms are more severe and persist long after they deliver. This form of depression is termed postpartum depression. Left untreated, postpartum depression may last months or longer.
Common symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Severe anxiety
- Intense irritability or anger
- Excessive crying
- Reduced ability to think clearly
- Severe mood swings
- Severe fatigue
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased interest or pleasure
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame or guilt
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Approximately 10% of women develop postpartum depression. Like the baby blues, it is not a flaw or a weakness; it is simply a consequence of giving birth.
Seeking help and support for postpartum depression
If you are feeling depressed following the birth of your baby, you may be embarrassed or reluctant to share your thoughts with another. However, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms and build a better bond with your baby. It’s important to know that support is out there. If your feelings of depression persist or escalate, call your healthcare provider. Reach out to schedule an appointment as soon as possible if your symptoms:
- Do not get better after two weeks
- Get worse
- Make it difficult to take care of your baby
- Make it difficult to complete everyday tasks
- Include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
If you are a spouse, family member, or friend of someone with a perinatal mood disorder, you may be confused and worried. While it may be challenging and painful to watch someone you care about react to parenthood in ways you didn’t, know that the person with depression is not to blame for this illness. With your support and professional help, they will get better. Recovery may seem slow, but adhering to a plan of support and communication will help you and your loved one get through this.
You can help and support a new parent by:
- Continuing to reassure them that they are not at fault and not alone
- Encouraging them to share their feelings and listen without judgment
- Taking the initiative to help them with simple tasks without being asked to do so
- Urge them to take time for themselves
- Helping them reach out to others for support and treatment
- Offering simple affection and physical comfort
You also can help them manage feelings like anger or irritability by:
- Making sure that they are eating regularly throughout the day
- Keeping multiple lines of communication open
- Verbalizing your feelings instead of distancing them
- Trying to understand what lies at the heart of their frustration
- Taking a break when necessary
- Continuing to ask them for ways that you can help
If you experience any of the emotional changes discussed in this post, know that you are not alone. While it may seem difficult, reaching out and receiving the proper treatment, leaning on your support network, and learning more about the baby blues and postpartum depression will ensure a bright future for you and your baby. By promptly recognizing and treating your postpartum mood disorder, you can swiftly return to beginning a life of love and laughter with your new family.
- Postpartum Support International is a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of emotional changes during pregnancy and postpartum and offers a multilingual chat and hotline (800.944.4773).
- The National Child & Maternal Health Education Program, a part of the National Institute of Mental Health, provides a series of mental health emergency hotlines for those in crisis.
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