Welcoming a new family member into your household is an exciting and joyous event. There is so much anticipation about the new baby and women often go through their pregnancy daydreaming about happy things: who will the baby will look like, what will their first words be? Understandably, the knowledge that you’re going to have a baby can also give rise to a certain level of concern and anxiety – there will be sleepless nights, adjustments in your daily life, and possible financial concerns to face.
It’s perfectly normal to feel both anxious and excited after the birth of a new baby and it’s also quite common for new mothers to experience the “baby blues” as they adjust to the arrival of their child. In fact, research shows the symptoms of the baby blues (mood swings, difficulty sleeping, crying, and anxiety) can affect up to 80% of new moms. These symptoms usually begin somewhere in the first few days after giving birth and generally last for about two weeks.
For some new mothers, however, the birth of their baby can trigger a long-lasting and more severe episode of depression, called postpartum depression or postnatal depression. Additionally, and rarely, a new mother can go also through postpartum psychosis – an extreme and dangerous mood disorder.
What is Postpartum Depression?
First, whether you are experiencing “just” the baby blues or an actual incidence of postpartum depression, understand that it is not a sign of weakness on your part and it doesn’t mean you are “a bad mom”! There is plenty of evidence showing that this mood disorder can actually be a complication of the birth process for some women.
After giving birth, many physical and emotional changes take place: hormone levels drop dramatically, you’re sleep-deprived, you may feel overwhelmed, and you may feel like you’re losing control of your life. Researchers think these changes may contribute to the development of postpartum depression. Furthermore, studies have shown that women who have a past history of depression and anxiety or those with a thyroid imbalance may be at higher risk for postnatal depression.
At first, postpartum depression can be mistaken for the baby blues, but the symptoms of postnatal depression last longer than the typical week or two in the case of the baby blues and are more profound. And, while the symptoms of post partum depression generally begin within the first few weeks after having a baby, they can even start anywhere from six months to a year after giving birth. Left untreated, postnatal depression can last a long time, ranging from several months to several years.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
The Mayo Clinic lists postpartum depression symptoms that may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
As mentioned above, postpartum psychosis is rare, occurring in about .1% of births or about 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries. Postpartum psychosis is severe and usually comes on suddenly – most often within the first two weeks after giving birth. The women most at risk have had a prior psychotic episode or are those with a personal or family history of bipolar disorder.
Postpartum psychosis can include:
- Bizarre beliefs
- Irrational judgements
Research shows that, in women undergoing postpartum psychosis, there is a suicide rate of about 5% and a rate of infanticide of approximately 4%. Because of the woman’s psychotic state, her delusions and beliefs feel very real, make total sense to her, and may cause her to act on them.
It is imperative that a woman going through postpartum psychosis get immediate help. This condition is treatable, but it is an emergency condition. Call your doctor or an emergency helpline to get the assistance you need as soon as possible!
Getting Help for Postpartum Depression
If you suspect you may have postpartum depression, the sooner you seek help, the better for both your baby and yourself. Call your doctor or a mental health professional right away if the signs and symptoms of your depression:
- Don’t lessen or go away after two weeks
- Seem to be getting worse
- Are making it hard for you to care for yourself and/or your baby
- Are making it difficult to carry out everyday tasks
- Include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Treatment for postpartum depression may include counseling and talk therapy via Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as the use of antidepressant medications.
Without treatment, postpartum depression can last for months or years. If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from postnatal depression, contact the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email The Center today.