Most people would be surprised to learn that more than 10% of mothers experience postpartum depression. But when you consider that these mothers go through almost 10 months of pregnancy, childbirth, and then an often incredibly challenging year caring for a new baby, the stats become less surprising. The changes that a mother goes through are oftentimes unbelievable, and it can seem overwhelming at times.
You’ll learn in any prenatal class about the Baby Blues – the normal period after giving birth where your hormones drop back to pre-pregnancy levels and therefore your mood takes a big hit as well. Sleep deprivation doesn’t help much either. Most women feel weepy, somewhat anxious, and emotionally vulnerable. And yes, this is normal. But how can you tell if the way you feel is just the Baby Blues, or if you have postpartum depression?
Well, there’s a few important differences.
Normal Baby Blues Or Postpartum Depression?
It’s virtually impossible to describe a normal pregnancy, normal childbirth, and normal postpartum period because there is just so much variation across women. Within the normal range or pregnancy, for example, some women don’t have a single day of nausea while others can’t hold anything down for months. All normal! Childbirth is the same, with a massive range of entirely normal experiences.
There are a few experiences however that are more common, particularly for those first few weeks after birth:
- Firstly, women’s estrogen and progesterone levels (which were 10-100 times greater during pregnancy) completely return to their normal levels within 24 hours!
- Women are up all hours of the night feeding and tending to their newborns so sleep deprivation is likely a shared experience between mothers
- And inevitably, all families go through some kind of transition as a new member is brought into the home. This impacts all relationships.
The resulting emotional experience is often referred to as the Baby Blues: the normal few days after birth where you feel down, weepy, exhausted, fragile. You might also have a hard time sleeping and eating, and not want to be around others. Importantly, Baby Blues do not cause an inability to function or manage daily tasks.
On top of the normal mood swings, tears, sleep deprivation, and constant-worrying, some women also experience prolonged symptoms that fall outside what is considered “normal.” Postpartum depression includes all those things that are part of the Baby Blues, but also include experiences that require special attention from a counsellor, doctor, or other supports.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression include:
- Prolonged depressed mood
- Feeling extreme loneliness
- Sleep disturbances (in addition to what’s caused by waking to care for baby)
- Feeling worthless / poor self esteem
- Feeling helpless, lost, and hopeless
- Having suicidal thoughts or plans
- Having thoughts of harming others
- Feeling despair, and complete overwhelm
- Inability to manage daily tasks
- Loss of interest in activities that used to bring joy
What To Do About Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is caused by several different factors (physical, emotional, social, relational) and therefore the strategies to manage the condition includes those different areas as well. There’s no single cure or quick fix, but rather, most women benefit from adopting several strategies that cover each of these areas.
- Get as much sleep as you possible can.
- Eat nourishing meals
- Rest (down time) to allow your body to heal
- Drink water to combat water retention and lethargy
- Consider your expectations of how these early days “should” be
- Let go of your expectations of being “perfect”
- Examine negative thought patterns
- Practice gratitude
- Ask for help
- Focus on small acts of self-care and self-compassion (here’s a post about self-care for moms, with free affirmations).
- Leave your house once a day
- Join mom or parent groups
- Arrange play dates
- Connect with others online (social media groups)
- Enrol your child in activities to get out of the house and meet others
- Plan your week and schedule activities
- Talk to your partner about how things feel differently
- Ask your partner for help
- Adopt a “team” mentality
- Understand that your relationship is under stress (and it won’t always feel this way)
- Practice assertive communication
- Consider ways to build intimacy that aren’t about sex
If your symptoms are severe and you’re worried about safety for yourself or others, then you need to seek medical attention right away. Your doctor can offer further support and possibly medication to help you get through this challenging time.
Regardless of whether or not you are given a postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety diagnosis, you may still want to tend to these areas of wellness to help you through. Postpartum depression can arise anywhere within the first year of having a baby, so be sure to take care of all aspects of yourself the best you can, and be willing to reach out for support if you need it. You are not alone.
*If you are a British Columbia resident and interested in postpartum counselling, click here to learn more. I offer online (video-based) counselling for new mothers looking for support.