The early weeks postpartum can pack quite a punch: Sleep deprivation. Leaky breasts. A tender undercarriage. It's no wonder new mothers find themselves crying more than they did before! While many parents have heard of the term "the baby blues," they might not be familiar with what the blues entail- or how to recognize signs of other postpartum mood disorders.
You've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of your baby and finally the big day comes. A few days after giving birth you might find that you are crying and feeling sad for seemingly no reason. After all, isn't this supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life? In moments of feeling overwhelmed, you might even wonder if having a baby was a mistake- even if you tried for years to conceive.
The baby blues are the mildest postpartum mood disorder and affect about 70-80% of new mothers, usually setting in during the first few weeks after birth. Baby blues often manifest as mood swings, with mothers reeling between feelings of joy to despair. Lack of sleep can lead to heightened irritability, but at the same time, you might not be able to sleep. Mothers may also report feeling foggy and unable to concentrate. Fortunately, the baby blues typically last only a few days or a few weeks. About 20% of women will go on to develop postpartum depression.
While experiencing the baby blues is very common and usually temporary, it is wise to know the signs of a more serious postpartum mood disorder, such as postpartum depression (PPD). The symptoms of PPD look very much like the baby blues only intensified and longer lasting. Symptoms of PPD may not pop up right away and can occur anytime during the first year after giving birth.
But I don't feel sad or depressed.
Postpartum mood disorders are more than feeling sad or depressed. While some parents experience those feelings, others may instead feel anxious and fearful. Some may fly into an angry rage. Still others find themselves feeling obsessive.
What do I do if I suspect I have postpartum depression (PPD) or another postpartum mood disorder?
If you suspect PPD or just don't feel like yourself after giving birth, a call to your midwife or obstetrician is in order. Your provider may suggest you begin medication and refer you to a mental health provider. If you are breastfeeding, there are medications that are well-studied and safe for you to take.
If you are experiencing symptoms as a result of a traumatic birth or breastfeeding difficulties, reach out to professionals for guidance. A board-certified lactation consultant can help you with infant feeding challenges and a therapist can assist with processing and healing emotional trauma.
Good self care is critical to your well being and mental health. Adequate sleep, food, and water are the first steps. Go outside for a break in the fresh air and sunshine. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your newborn's intense needs, get help. Hire a postpartum doula and accept offers for help from friends and relatives.
If you find yourself struggling after giving birth, you are not alone. Help is available and healing will occur. Please reach out. You and your family are worth it!
Learn more about pregnancy and postpartum mental health with Postpartum Support International.