Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression and Psychosis
For nine months you focused on the mother of all physical events: childbirth. You exercised to maintain your endurance, read endless amounts of expert advice and even attended Lamaze class. You planned, feared and anticipated – and now you’ve accomplished the feat. You’re on the other side with perhaps too-fresh memories of the event, holding an exclusive membership in the Mom Club.
While you were so focused on your pregnancy and delivery, you may have been ill-prepared for the physical and emotional toll childbirth actually brings. The post-delivery bleeding, cramping, exhaustion and engorgement almost makes being pregnant look appealing – plus there’s the overwhelming enormity of new motherhood. You might be running on an adrenaline-induced new mother’s high, but much of what you’re feeling is less than blissful.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on regarding you, not just your bundle of joy.
Women’s emotional health can vary widely – often in the same day. One minute you might feel overwhelmed and anxious, then weepy with happiness, and then, out of nowhere, anger that your partner is at work and you’re confined to the house. You might feel lonely, stressed, exhilarated and content – all in the same hour. These mood swings are expected and completely normal. However, a good chunk of women are overwhelmingly sad, perhaps feeling a sense of disconnect with the baby or fear of what lies ahead. These feelings are also normal, but should be watched more closely in case a more serious depression develops.
A couple of days after giving birth, most new moms (around 80 percent) will experience sudden and unexpected sadness, anger and irritability, mostly as a result of feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and disappointed. These are probably the baby blues, not post-partum depression or psychosis (see below). During pregnancy, your estrogen and progesterone drastically spiked, and now suddenly they’ve come crashing back to pre-pregnancy levels. On top of that, there are a number of emotional factors adding to your blues: Maybe motherhood is harder than the romanticized image in your head; perhaps you don’t feel an instant connection with your baby, or maybe you’re horrified at your reflection in the mirror. Try these tips to lift your spirits:
- Go outside. Even if it’s just to run to the store or take a walk, breathing fresh air and taking a break from the mundane routine of diapers and feedings will help clear your head.
- Shower and get dressed. Ah, the things you once took for granted. While we promise it eventually gets easier to shower, we remember a long, hot shower being more of a luxury than a reality during those first couple of weeks. But finding a way to clean up, even – gasp! – putting on makeup and fresh clothes that aren’t stained with spit up, can help make you feel human once again.
- Ask for help. Have your mother, mother-in-law, sister – someone! – come over, if not to help, then to just keep you company. Nothing is more depressing than the solitude of mothering a newborn, and just having someone to talk to and laugh with can do wonders for your mood.
Most moms shed the blues in a week or two, but if your sadness persists and becomes debilitating, call your doctor.
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects about 15 percent of women, and while it sometimes sets in right after delivery, it can take months or even a year to occur. Due to fluctuating hormones and severe lifestyle upheaval, anyone is susceptible to PPD. However, those at more risk are those who:
- Suffered from depression in the past
- Have severe PMS
- Have a family history of depression
- Felt sad and depressed during the pregnancy
- Had a complicated labor and/or delivery
- Have a sick baby
If you feel you’re at risk, talk to your doctor about taking preventative measures. This might just mean being watched more closely, checking in with a social worker on a regular basis, or taking medication (depending on your history).
Signs of postpartum depression are more severe baby blues, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Crying spells
- Feeling hopeless or out of control
- Fear of touching the baby
- Little or no concern about your appearance
- Inability to sleep or excessive sleep
- Disturbing thoughts that scare you
If your symptoms last for more than two weeks, call your doctor for professional help.