Baby blues or postpartum depression?
The birth of a baby(!)… a time of joy and love, cuddles and bonding. Yet, sometimes new parents experience something in sharp contrast to the feelings of elation, bliss, and pure love expected with the birth of a child. Approximately 15% of pregnant and postpartum women experience feelings of deep sadness, emptiness, and anxiety, and partners also can be affected by these same feelings.
“How can I feel this way when everything is so great?!”
“I’m supposed to feel happy”
“Maybe I’ll feel better when…. I get a full night’s sleep, have a nanny, eat healthier…”
Or worse… “I don’t want to be a parent”
Every birth (and pregnancy, for that matter) is a physical, mental, and emotional period of adjustment and feat of strength. Your body changes hormonally and physically to accommodate the baby and these hormonal and physical changes bring shifts in your brain chemistry which affects mood and energy level. And, during and after birth, there are rapid changes in sex and stress hormones and thyroid levels that have a strong effect on mood that can contribute to feelings of depression. Additionally, pregnancy and birth not only bring physical changes, there are also changes in relationships, work/career, worries about parenting and caring for a young child, and the lack of sleep that naturally comes with a baby. So much to think and feel and adjust to!
Baby blues and Postpartum Depression are different
It is reported that 80% of mothers experience what is referred to as “baby blues” and it is not uncommon for birth partners, adoptive parents, and same sex parents to also experience similar feelings of baby blues. Baby blues is characterized by feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue, tends to be more tolerable and short-lived (generally lasting for a week or two), and usually goes away all on its own after an adjustment period in routine, sleep, and hormones.
It is no wonder that the highs of pregnancy and childbirth could be followed by a contrasting period of adjustment. With the excitement, fear, and worry of the “time” of childbirth, the rush of hormones that pulse through your body to assist with labor, and the heightened anxiety/excitement that surrounds the birthing environment, the adjusting and settling that happens during the postpartum period can feel surreal and confusing. Often new parents wonder and worry if they are truly prepared for bringing home the baby. I know, because my husband and I both had those thoughts after the birth of our first child. I distinctly remember the first night home… in the living room rocking chair, rocking my little one, and my husband and I asking each other “what do we do now?” Fortunately, common sense and love prevailed, and we parented day-by-day, adjusting to our new “family”.
However, the feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that occur with postpartum depression (PPD) can be extreme and make caring for yourself and your family difficult and can affect attachment/bonding with your newborn. PPD can begin shortly before or anytime after childbirth and can affect any woman or new parent regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or economic status. Recently, many celebrity parents (Brooke Shields, Christy Tiegen, Drew Barrymore, Amanda Peet, Courtney Cox, and Hayden Panettiere) have talked openly about their experience with PPD. This truth in sharing honestly and openly about experiences, hopefully, will help other new parents feel more comfortable to reach out for support.
The symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to major depression and include:
-Feeling sad, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
-Difficulty sleeping/sleeping too much
-Changes in appetite
-Crying for “no reason”
-Lack of interest in the baby, not feeling bonded to the baby, or feeling very anxious about the baby
-Feelings of being a bad parent
-Fear of harming the baby or oneself
-A loss of interest or pleasure in life
-Symptoms of anxiety, worry, dread
What are risk factors for PPD?
Any new parent can experience the symptoms of PPD or other mood disorder; however, there are several risk factors for PPD. Women who have experienced symptoms of depression during or after a previous pregnancy, have been diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder previously, if there is a stressful life event during pregnancy or shortly after birth (job loss, death of a loved one, domestic violence, or personal illness), medical complications during childbirth, having mixed feelings about the pregnancy, lacking a strong emotional support system (spouse, partner, family, friends), and having alcohol or other substance use issues.
What to do and when to seek treatment
PPD is treatable! If you are having symptoms related to PPD, please reach out for support. PPD is often helped by psychotherapy, attending support groups, connecting to community resources and support, and medication. Contact a medical or mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms related to PPD, have thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming your child, your depressed feelings are getting worse, or if you are having trouble with daily tasks or taking care of your baby.
If you have questions or would like therapeutic support, please contact me at 720-924-1155 or admin@myelementalwellness.