The incredible physical and emotional changes that a mother experiences after the birth of her baby, whether her first or her fifth, simply cannot be overstated. Birthing and caring for a newborn is one of the most profound and intense experiences of her life and the effects are wide-ranging and unique to every mom. There is always an adjustment period that involves hormonal shifts and often nights with little sleep, but when normal steps of recovery become overshadowed by postpartum depression and anxiety, it is time to seek help, and for others to let her know she is not alone.
“Baby Blues” or Something More?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 80% of mothers experience “baby blues.” It typically begins around 3-5 days after giving birth and the symptoms can include crying for no apparent reason, along with irritability and mood swings, as well as changes in sleep or eating habits. These feelings usually are short lived, lasting no more than a week or two, and pass on their own as hormones from labor and birth normalize. Roughly 10-20% of new mothers experience a more severe mood disorder, often called postpartum depression or anxiety. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and often last longer than two weeks.
Signs and Symptoms
If a new mother is experiencing any of the following symptoms of depression,* especially for an extended period of time, she should contact her care provider or mental health professional for support and treatment:
- Extreme fatigue beyond the expected tiredness
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty sleeping and eating
- Loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy>
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of interest in your baby
Similarly, symptoms of anxiety can occur in the day or weeks following birth. There are effective treatments available, so the sooner a mother seeks help, the better. Symptoms include the following:
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Racing thoughts that you cannot control
- Constant feelings of worry
- Constant fear that something bad is going to happen
- Trouble sitting still or focusing
- Dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea (anxiety attacks)
Postpartum depression or anxiety is in no way a mother’s fault; there is nothing she did or did not do to cause it. It’s a mental health condition that can be treated in a variety of ways, from counseling to medication. Just as with any health condition, the causes and risk factors are complex and often the result of a variety of factors. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “A rapid decrease in some hormones after delivery is thought to be one contributing factor to the development of postpartum depression. But other risk factors include stressors, previous depressive episodes, depression during pregnancy, complications during pregnancy and/or delivery, and a family history of mood disorders.” A care provider or mental health professional can help a mother find the best course of treatment so that she can recover and continue to bond with her baby and enjoy this time with her child.
Finding Help and Hope
According to the organization Postpartum Progress, "Most moms with postpartum depression will fully recover, especially if the illness is diagnosed and treated early.” The first step is to talk with your care provider or trusted mental health professional to determine a course of treatment. Secondly, it’s important to make your home environment as supportive as possible; talk with your partner and those closest to you. The more they understand, the more they’ll be able to help. Third, it’s also important to make sure you’re getting as much sleep as possible, eating a balanced diet and getting some physical activity.
For more information about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and resources available, consult these sites:
Postpartum Support International
American Psychological Association: Postpartum Depression
Postpartum Health Alliance
*Rarely, women experience more severe symptoms such as delusions, paranoia, confusion, erratic behavior or thoughts of harming herself or her baby, due to a condition called Postpartum Psychosis. If any of these symptoms are present, seek immediate medical help or call 911.
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Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer
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