Beyond Baby Blues: Dealing with Postpartum Depression
It’s perfectly normal to experience a rollercoaster of emotions before and after a healthy pregnancy. Your body undergoes a multitude of changes that can easily impact your overall wellbeing and state of mind. It’s even common to feel the “baby blues,” or unexpected sadness, for several days after giving birth. However, if this feeling continues for longer than 2 weeks and turns into minimal connectedness to your baby or sense of caring for her, you may have postpartum depression and need to seek help right away.
The most common trigger for postpartum depression is the change in hormones immediately after childbirth. In the months leading up to childbirth, estrogen and progesterone levels will be at their highest levels. However, immediately after childbirth, these hormone levels will rapidly drop down to pre-pregnancy levels. Many medical researchers believe that this sudden change leads to depression. In addition, thyroid hormone levels may also drop following childbirth, further contributing to symptoms of depression.
Aside from hormonal causes, some emotional factors often play a part in having less than full emotional engagement with a newborn. These include:
- Fatigue from delivery of baby
- Worry about being a capable mother
- Sadness about a major life change/loss of independence
- Feelings about change in appearance
- Stress from responsibilities in caring for baby
In addition to a lack of feelings of love and caring for your baby, common symptoms may include:
- Increased irritability and quick-temperedness
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Significant changes in appetite
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Crying for no apparent reason
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions
- Unusual physical pains such as headaches, stomach problems, and muscle soreness
Women who may be more at risk
There are some factors that could point to a higher chance of postpartum depression. You may be more at risk if you:
- Have a personal history of depression or bipolar disorder
- Are younger than 20
- Had problems with a previous pregnancy
- Had an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
- Have relationship or financial problems
- Have a history of alcoholism or medication misuse
There are two courses of action that can effectively address postpartum depression. Before choosing either—or both—you need to consult your physician to determine what is best for you.
Talking one-on-one with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, therapist, or social worker, can be beneficial in recognizing and changing negative behaviors and thoughts. These discussions can help you set realistic goals and enable you to handle situations in a manner that protects you and your baby.
Antidepressants interact with brain chemicals that impact mood regulation. With these medications, it may take several weeks before you notice a significant change. In addition, while antidepressants are generally safe to take during breastfeeding, you should talk with your healthcare provider to be fully informed of any possible risk in your situation.
You can also find helpful information and access to real-time support at the TheBlueDotProject, an online resource dedicated to raising awareness of postpartum depression and overcoming the lingering stigma and shame of maternal mental health disorders.
While postpartum depression can be alarming to mothers and family members, it is a fairly common problem, with one in nine new mothers experiencing some aspect of this condition. There is plentiful knowledge and understanding, as well as a large supportive community available to help you get through it so that you can experience the joys of caring for and bonding with your child.
Lillianne Lewis Debnam, M.D., M.P.H.
Specializes in Pediatrics
Learn more about Dr. Lewis Debnam.