Having a baby can be a wonderful image when parents picture it out. However, the actual event of having a baby and the arrival of your firstborn can actually be a stressing one. For a new parent or first-time mom, your expectations of joy and happiness can sometimes turn out the opposite when the baby arrives. Do not worry, this is what around 40 to 80 percent of new mothers feel or experience. Due to the high prevalence and common occurrence of this experience, it has been given its widely known name of “baby blues”. By definition, baby blues is an emotional state of tearfulness, unhappiness, worry, anxiety, self-loathing and fatigue. Baby blues typically begin three days after childbirth and dissipate on their own within a week or two.
However, if what you are feeling is the more intense version of the emotional states of baby blues and last longer than two weeks, it could be a red flag for a more serious condition otherwise known as postpartum depression (PPD). Be honest with yourself. Your own honesty will benefit you and your entire new environment.
What is postpartum depression? How is it different from baby blues?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between postpartum depression and baby blues resulting from the normal stress and exhaustion of being a new parent. Initially, their symptoms are not so different from each other. However, if your feelings of sadness or despair are so strong that they prevent you from effectively doing your daily tasks – such as taking care of yourself and others – you could be having postpartum depression or PPD.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, postpartum depression can begin in the weeks after pregnancy or even before delivery, i.e. during pregnancy. (About half of women with PPD have symptoms during pregnancy.)
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
The symptoms of PPD can occur before or during pregnancy. Postpartum depression is not a “one-size-fits-all” condition. Your experience may include just a few of the symptoms listed below and you may not have others at all. You could have PPD if you experience five or more of the following symptoms almost every day, for most of the day, for at least two consecutive weeks:
- Feelings of extreme sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Excessive and frequent crying
- Loss of interest or lack of enjoyment in your usual activities and hobbies
- Sleep troubles (trouble falling sleep at night, or trouble staying awake during the day)
- Loss of appetite or eating too much, or unintentional weight loss or weight gain
- Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or overpowering guilt
- Physical activity disturbance (being restless or sluggish)
- Concentration or decision-making difficulty
- Feelings of hopelessness and despair
Other possible signs you might be depressed include:
- Being overly irritable or angry
- Social avoidance (avoiding friends and family)
- Excessive anxiety or worry about your baby
- Detached emotion and responsibility for your baby, or being unable to care for her altogether
- Intense feeling of exhaustion (e.g. you’re unable to get out of bed for hours after first waking)
In rare cases, some women with PPD experience delusional thoughts, vivid hallucinations, morbid contemplations and may harm their baby. If you have thoughts about self-harm or harming your baby, this is an urgent health matter. Contact your provider immediately.
What causes postpartum depression?
PPD results from a combination of hormonal, environmental, emotional, and genetic factors that are beyond your control. Pregnancy and childbirth can have hormones go haywire and cause drastic changes within our bodies, especially our emotional and mental stability. Some women think that they are somehow responsible for having PPD, when depression actually doesn’t happen because of something you did or didn’t do. That is, forgive yourself immediately as you realize this answer.
You may also be more likely to have PPD if you had non-pregnancy related depression or had anxiety attacks during pregnancy, or if you had the baby blues after delivery. Other factors that contribute to the development of PPD include the physical exhaustion after giving birth, the emotional adjustment of becoming a parent, the lack of social or family support during pregnancy or childbirth and sleep deprivation.
What can you do?
About 10 percent of new mothers develop PPD, but some experts and mental health organizations believe the number could be even higher because there are many women who do not fully understand their situation and/or don’t seek treatment.
The key to early intervention and recovery is acknowledgment or acceptance. If you’re struggling emotionally, acknowledge that you need professional help and see your healthcare provider right away for a mental health screening. Allow yourself to be grateful that this help exists.
The good news is that postpartum depression is very treatable. Seek timely intervention and professional help. Cooperation to the treatment for PPD can keep you from getting deeper into depression and prevent you from being harder to help. The support and care of your partner or significant other is crucial for you to feel less alone and be more assured. With your fast recovery and feeling better, you can take care and bond more easily with your baby and experience the joy of motherhood.