More than Just the Baby Blues? Postpartum Depression Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
By Chelsea Skaggs, founder of Postpartum Together
After having a baby, there are a lot of unknowns. There are new feelings, thoughts, and experiences happening all at once. Every circumstance is different, from the way you gave birth, to the needs of your baby (or babies) on the outside, to your support system, but all women share this on truth: that life has changed in many ways. While motherhood is expected to be a very joyous time, the reality is that the hardships can impact mothers in significant ways.
Changes in our lives create new opportunities for joy… as well as new opportunities for stress. Motherhood requires both the body and the mind to adapt. Hormone changes, sleep deprivation, past or current traumas and many other factors can contribute to a woman’s mental health and emotional wellbeing after having a baby. For some women, the experience will be what’s often referred to as “the baby blues.” An estimated 80% of women experience the baby blues within a few of days of giving birth. Some women will continue to struggle or experience a later onset of challenges, which could indicate a more severe condition known as postpartum depression.
What Are the Baby Blues?
After delivering your baby, your hormones will fluctuate significantly as your body recovers. This fluctuation can make new moms feel sad, irritable, overwhelmed, and worse. The baby blues is the name given for these feelings and experiences that usually occur within the first two weeks of delivery (postpartum). Women often describe this time as a rollercoaster of ongoing mood swings – feeling joy one moment and weepiness the next. The baby blues do not usually last more than approximately two weeks.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
While some of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are very similar to the experience of the baby blues, there are important factors that set two apart. The biggest factor is timing. The baby blues usually begin early after delivery and can last up to two weeks. However, postpartum depression generally lasts longer.
Some women will begin feeling the symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD) early after delivery and this may continue for months. Some women develop the onset of postpartum depression symptoms later in their postpartum journey. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, postpartum depression can occur up to a year after having your baby. They also indicate that 5-25% of women experience PPD after pregnancy. It’s also important to mention that women can experience depression during or even throughout pregnancy. The time from conception to a year after birth is considered ‘perinatal’.
Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
If you believe you or someone you know may be suffering from postpartum depression, it helps to know the signs and symptoms to be aware of. These symptoms may include (but are not limited to):
- Feelings of helplessness
- Intrusive thoughts
- Believing your baby would be better off without you
- Extreme fatigue
- Ongoing sadness
- Little to no motivation to care for the baby and/or self
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Decreased energy
- Inability to sleep
- Brain fogginess
It can be difficult to distinguish postpartum depression from the exhaustion and overwhelm of early motherhood. This is why it’s important to talk honestly with others around you, including your loved ones and your medical team. If you feel these symptoms come up and then leave, they may not be a cause of concern (motherhood has some really tough moments!) If these symptoms are persistent and interrupt your life and overall mood, however, getting help and support will allow you to feel better.
Screening for Postpartum Depression
You should be provided with a screening tool called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale at your follow-up appointment with your OBGYN and/or at your child’s pediatric appointments. Your providers may also use other screening tools such as the Patient Health Questionnare-9. Postpartum Support International recommends that providers screen new mothers at the first prenatal visit, at least once in the second trimester, at least once in the third trimester, at the 6-week postpartum visit, at 6 and/or 12-month appointments and at the 3-, 9-, and 12-month pediatric visits.
Many women are not provided the recommended screenings automatically, but you have the right to request them, especially if you are not feeling like yourself. If you are not provided with this screening tool, be sure to request it. Detection and getting help are critical for improving the symptoms and outcomes of postpartum depression.
Treating Postpartum Depression
It can be scary to reach out for help if you believe you have postpartum depression. There are so many pressures surrounding new motherhood that admitting that we could use help can feel like a failure. Spoiler alert: it is not. One of the strongest things you can do is to reach out and accept help when you need it. We were never meant to do everything on our own and there is no such person as a “supermom.” You and your provider can discuss your best options if you need postpartum depression treatment:
Medication to Treat PPD
There are many medications that are safe to take to treat postpartum depression, even if you’re breastfeeding. If your provider recommends any medication, it’s important to first go through your full medical and family history before it’s prescribed. Do not be surprised if it takes some time to find the right dosage and type of medication to help you feel better. It’s a common challenge that many go through.
Therapy and Counseling to Treat PPD
There are many therapists who specialize in perinatal mental health. These therapists can help you to identify your needs, uncover the causes of your depression and offer tools or create strategies for intervention, management and healing. Having a professional to talk to can be very helpful for women going through the transitions of motherhood and postpartum depression.
Personal Coping Mechanisms
In addition to professional treatment, you may research and discover personal coping mechanisms that help you find peace of mind Work with professionals and your loved ones to identify what you need to feel like yourself, see beyond the fog of depression and to continue making healthy choices for yourself and your baby.
Remember, just because motherhood is beautiful doesn’t mean it’s always picture-perfect. There is no shame in needing help from others to allow you to be your best self as a mother, partner and a woman. While postpartum depression and other challenges and struggles of motherhood are not often talked about, you’re never alone and you’re not failing. The more we talk honestly about our experiences of motherhood and womanhood, the more we can help one another and understand, challenges like the baby blues and postpartum depression.