Thanks to my good friend Kayla for asking me to blog about this important topic.
Between 10-15 percent of new mothers and pregnant women experience postpartum depression, and as many as 80 percent of women experience the “baby blues” during pregnancy and/or after giving birth. I personally never knew it was that high of a percentage, because it is not talked about often (I am talking about it now, though). It is important to know that if even one woman is experiencing postpartum depression, the baby blues, or postpartum psychosis, that it may become difficult for her to care for herself and her baby.
It seems to have become taboo in our nation to discuss unhappiness after having a baby or even about pregnancy. I remember very vividly my personal experience with the baby blues after Sydney was born. My husband was a recruiter in the Army, and was gone 12-16 hours a day, and I was left to care for Sydney, who had colic and cried nonstop, around the clock. I had a tough time adjusting to a new schedule, the crying, and the uncertainty of how to care for a newborn. I was so unsure of myself in the beginning, and I really had no support system. I remember feeling so helpless, crying all the time, locking myself in rooms where I couldn’t hear her, holding her and crying together, calling my neighbor to get some relief, and wanting to crawl under a rock and disappear. I felt very ashamed to admit that I felt like I was losing control, and out of frustration and the deepest love for her that I’d ever felt in my entire life, I just wanted her to stop crying. I think the shame for me came because I had had the dream pregnancy, and we had practiced for our HypnoBirth. We wanted her so badly, and I felt sad that I wasn’t thrilled that she was there. It’s hard to admit, as mothers, that we feel overwhelmed, because many of us are the glue of our families, the ones that handle everything and keep it all together. After a while, Sydney and I adjusted to each other, to nursing through the night, to bonding, to loving each other, and to being mother and daughter.
Brooke Shields wrote a book called Down Came the Rain about the 2003 birth of her daughter and her postpartum depression that she suffered from. Though I have never read the book, I was and still am grateful that she had the courage to stand up and say to the public that postpartum depression is something that is real, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Though this blog is about postpartum depression, it is important to make some distinctions between the “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis and shed some light on what may cause them.
The baby blues are felt by as many as 80 percent of all new mothers, mixed with the joy about the birth of their new baby. Researchers think it is caused by the change in hormones after giving birth. Once the hormone levels become more regular, usually within 2 weeks, the symptoms of the baby blues typically disappear. The symptoms of the baby blues are: irritability, tearfulness, mood swings, insomnia, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Be sure to speak with your doctor about these feelings during your first postpartum visit.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) can follow the baby blues, and the feelings may intensify. Some women experience a peak in feelings around three to four months after giving birth. Changes in hormone levels (estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones), the lack of sleep and the monumental responsibility of being a parent may all be contributing factors in postpartum depression. The following list are symptoms of postpartum depression, if you experience 5 or more of them, please contact your doctor:
Loss of pleasure in your daily life or activities (Total or partial loss)
Feeling depressed – sad, hopeless, feeling empty inside, being tearful
Change in appetite – eating too little or too much (may cause weight changes)
Changes in walking and talking (sluggish or restless)
Extreme loss of energy or fatigue
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Difficulty with making decisions or concentrating
Thoughts of harming self or others – some mothers feel like harming their babies, though it is out of fear or helplessness rather than with the intent of doing harm
Postpartum Psychosis is a severe mental condition that is more prevalent in women who have bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. It usually develops in the first three weeks, and sometimes within one to two days of giving birth. Postpartum psychosis is an emergency situation needing immediate medical treatment; women who have postpartum psychosis are at high risk of seriously harming themselves or their babies. The symptoms include:
Restless sleep, even when the baby is sleeping
Easily agitated or restless
Feeling detatched from others around you (baby, surroundings, and other people)
Strange behavior and drastic changes in mood
Hallucinations (often involving: sight, hearing, touch, smell)
Delusions that are not reality based
So besides hormone levels, are there factors that could contribute to the likelihood of women having postpartum depression? There certainly are, and here are some of those factors:
History of depression or other mental illness
Family history of depression or mental illness
No support system
Not feeling positive about pregnancy
Issues from previous birth or pregnancy
Marital or money problems
Substance abuse problem
Here are some ways to help with depressed feelings:
Ask for help, don’t try to appear perfect
Rest as much as possible
Take time out for yourself
Spend time with others, your partner, friends, family
Talk about your feelings to those who are supportive
Talk with other mothers for support
Join a support group for those with postpartum depression
Try not to make any major changes in your life during or shortly following pregnancy and giving birth.
The great news in all of this is that postpartum depression, the baby blues, and postpartum psychosis (please speak with your doctor if you have any of the above symptoms of postpartum psychosis) are treatable. It is vitally important that women not be ashamed of how they are feeling, and speak with their doctors. Doctors can screen patients for depression in their office, and make recommendations for treatment. There are several options for treatment, such as, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (which helps to change thoughts and behaviors), talk therapy (which helps you to change how depression makes one act, think, and behave), medication especially for depression (it is important to evaluate and research this option if you are breastfeeding), and homeopathy. Work with your doctor or other professional to help you decide what option may be best for you.
The following are some suggestions I have, as a HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator, and a mom of an almost three year old little girl (these also help when you reach the challenging stages in parenthood).
If you are feeling overwhelmed, call a friend or family member to come over and sit with your baby as you do something unrelated to parenting
Write your feelings down, either in blog format, in a journal, or even on a napkin
Write affirmations about yourself as a mother (affirmations are positive things that we say to ourselves to change how we feel, think, act, behave) Examples: “I am a patient and loving mother” “I feel calm and serene when I take a deep breath.” “I am loved.” “I am supported.” “I love being a mother.” (The affirmations are about you).
Call someone and vent your feelings.
Take a warm shower or bath
Get away for some spa treatments
Take a walk in the fresh air and sunshine (with your baby)
Following the birth or your baby, it is so important to care for yourself, as a mother. It may be humbling and challenging to admit that you need help with your baby, but there are family and friends who I guarantee are out there just waiting for you to call. That’s what they are there for, to support you, love you, and help make this transition a peaceful one for you and your baby. Know that some mixed feelings are fairly normal for moms (no matter how many children you’ve had), and that you should not be ashamed to admit if you feel less than wonderful.
The following are the sources I used in writing this blog:
Please feel free to share your comments or personal experiences.