Motherhood is definitely more than cute, cuddly babies. Especially the early days of postpartum can be a nerve wrecking roller coaster. Fatigue, a body that pains in places that you did not even know existed, sleepless nights, a baby that refuses to unlatch from the boobs, a baby that is crying throughout and you don’t know why, are just some of the perks of motherhood. If you’re a brand-new mom who expected to be full of joy at this point, it can be upsetting and confusing when you’re actually feeling the opposite. Rest assured, you’re not alone: Anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of new mothers experience depression – an emotional state of tearfulness, unhappiness, worry, self-doubt, and fatigue. The baby blues typically begin a few days after delivery and go away on their own within a week or two.
However, if your feelings seem unusually intense and have lasted longer than two weeks straight, you may be wondering whether you have a more serious condition.
If your feelings of sadness or despair are so powerful that they prevent you from being able to do your daily tasks – such as caring for yourself and others – you could have postpartum depression (PPD). About 10 percent of new mothers develop PPD, but some experts believe the number is even higher because many women don’t seek treatment. If you’re struggling, see your provider right away for a mental health screening.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, postpartum depression can begin in the weeks after pregnancy or even before. (About half of women with PPD have symptoms during pregnancy.)
What causes depression after childbirth?
PPD results from a combination of hormonal, environmental, emotional, and genetic factors that are beyond your control. Some women might feel somehow responsible for having PPD, but depression doesn’t happen because of something you did or didn’t do.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
How is postpartum depression treated?
Talk therapy, also called counseling or psychotherapy, can be one-on-one with your therapist or in a group setting with other women going through a similar experience. In family or couples therapy, a therapist works with you and your partner or relatives.
Antidepressants balance the brain chemicals that regulate your mood. Talk with your provider about the different types of antidepressants – some are combined for best results. You’ll probably start to feel better after taking the medicine for three or four weeks.
Antidepressants can cause side effects, but most will resolve after a short time. If you experience side effects that interfere with your daily life, or if your depression gets worse, let your provider know right away.
In addition to getting professional help, here are some ways to take care of yourself when you’re dealing with PPD:
Be good to yourself
Make sure your own basic needs are met: Try to sleep and eat well, and do your best not to feel guilty. Having PPD doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother or don’t love your child. After you begin treatment, these feelings of guilt and despair should start to fade.
Don’t demand too much of yourself
If you have clinical depression or anxiety, it can be hard enough just to get out of bed and face the day. Be gentle with yourself, and take things one at a time.
Ask for support
Part of being a good mother is knowing when to ask for help, so don’t be afraid to ask for it during this difficult time. Let your partner know about different ways to help, whether it’s taking care of the baby, handling chores, or going with you to doctor appointments. Relatives or close friends may be able to help as well.
Share your feelings
Keep the lines of communication open with your partner and talk about what’s going on. Call a sympathetic friend. You may be surprised by how many women are experiencing similar feelings.
Have your partner or a friend watch your baby so you can take a shower or a relaxing bath. Put on makeup if you usually wear it. Go on a shopping trip just for yourself and buy something new for your post-baby wardrobe. Wear a favorite outfit on especially difficult days to give yourself a boost.
Get some rest
Unfortunately, moms with postpartum mood conditions often can’t sleep when they want to. But it’s still important to take breaks to rest, even if you just read a magazine or watch TV. Taking 10-minute naps is helpful too. Consider hiring a postpartum doula or a sitter experienced with newborns, or asking a relative or friend to watch your baby for an hour or so each day.
Put your baby in a stroller and take a walk around the block, or meet a friend at a nearby café. The fresh air, sunshine, and conversation will do you and your baby a world of good.
The housework can wait. Have food delivered, or ask your partner to pick up takeout on the way home. Resist the urge to check your email or phone, and relax with a book and a cup of chamomile tea instead.