As we continue our conversation for Mental Health Awareness Month on mental health and motherhood, it’s important we bring our attention to a major mental health concern for new mothers: postpartum depression.
Once a stigma, more and more mothers are opening up about the severe depression they have experienced after giving birth. This is a good thing. Because the more we know about postpartum depression, the more we can work to prevent and treat it.
Whenever I see a new mother at her baby’s one-, two-, four- and six-month visit, I ask about her moods. Most mothers are honest, but occasionally they feel ashamed for feeling depressed and hide it. The problem with postpartum depression is that many women who experience it don’t know they have it. All they know is that they feel down, tired and hopeless. That’s why I always ask a family member (husband, mother, father) to watch the mother closely. Often, a close loved one can recognize depression before the mother can. That’s why it is really important to listen to what loved ones tell you.
There is a lot of information out there. If you’re unsure what postpartum depression is, if you’re wondering if you have it or if a friend of yours does or perhaps your spouse, here is what you need to know:
There is a difference between postpartum depression and what we call the “post-baby blues.” The post-baby blues cause feelings of fatigue and worry after having a child. These feelings last for a few or several weeks and affect most new mothers, about 80 percent of them.
Postpartum depression is much more severe than the post-baby blues and lasts for a prolonged period of time. It affects about 15 percent of women. If you had depression before giving birth, you may have a higher risk of having postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a deep sense that life is dark and that there is no hope for the future. Also, women who experience it feel a lot of guilt. They worry that they are a terrible mom and they ask themselves why they can’t feel the love and affection toward their child they should be feeling.
Other symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
- Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
- Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when her baby is asleep
- Experiencing anger or rage
- Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Eating too little or too much
- Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with her baby
- Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby
- Thinking about harming herself or her baby
In addition, the expectations put on young moms is often unreasonable and this can add to your existing depression. For example, many women feel pressure to breastfeed their child, but if breastfeeding isn’t coming easily, this can add to the guilt. There’s no shame in not breastfeeding your baby, especially if you are feeling depressed. What your child needs is your healthiest you and that might mean giving yourself a break from unreasonable expectations, such as always breastfeeding no matter what.
The most important thing to know for anyone experiencing postpartum depression or anyone who knows someone experiencing it is that there is treatment available. If you think you might have postpartum depression, tell your obstetrician and she can make sure that you are treated well. You may need a good counselor or even medication. So, listen to her recommendations.
It’s just as important for those of us who know young moms to know the signs of postpartum depression as it is for young moms to know the signs. New mothers are exhausted. They can easily confuse that with depression, but it’s crucial to know the difference so each mom can get the care she needs. Share this important message with the moms in your life. If you are a young mother experiencing postpartum depression know you are not alone. There is help. And most importantly, there is hope.