Pregnancy is a beautiful experience, but it’s not always cupcakes and rainbows. When we talk about pregnancy, we may share our milestones, growth, and feelings leading up to the big arrival. Often, we don’t express the hardships of our pregnancy or how we feel afterward. We sometimes try to keep it upbeat so we can embrace those short 9 months carrying a tiny human being. Another part no one really talks about is what happens those first few weeks after taking Baby home, or worse, months later.
Postpartum depression is a real thing, and so is, what is typically called, the “baby blues.”
“Postpartum mood issues can be broken into three distinct areas: baby blues, depression and psychosis,” says Abigail Lynne Holbrook, D.O., a Mercy Health Physician and OB-GYN.
Welcoming an adorable, cooing little human into your life isn’t easy, and these uneasy feelings you have right from the beginning are normal.
“It’s normal to experience the baby blues, which are characterized by guilt, tearfulness, anxiety, overall fatigue and a lack of motivation to do normal activities,” she continues. “We anticipate some degree of this with most new moms, since welcoming a new person (or multiples) is a big life change,” Holbrook says.
POSTPARTUM VS. BABY BLUES
So what is the difference? First, postpartum depression is concerning and can get as serious as postpartum psychosis. According to Holbrook, if the daily activities you once loved are being affected by your mood, this may be a sign of postpartum depression. Sometimes women with postpartum depression begin to resent or withdraw from their baby.
“Postpartum depression is very common, and up to 50 percent of women will experience it in the first month, with the numbers of women affected going down month by month after the baby’s birth,” explains Holbrook. “This number could be higher, since it’s still a topic many women hesitate to discuss,” she adds.
You may have heard of a baby blues experience — but was it actually more serious?
Holbrook explains the baby blues as a “common, temporary psychological state right after childbirth.” If you are having sudden mood swings, going from happy to sad, feeling restless, anxious, lonely or sad for no apparent reason, you may be experiencing the baby blues. But don’t worry, this can last as little as a few hours or as long as one to two weeks after your delivery. It’s OK, normal, and with support from family and friends, you can get through this unsettling time.
“The baby blues in this sense are less severe than postpartum depression,” assures Holbrook. “The baby blues do not always require treatment from a health care provider. Often, joining a support group of new mothers or talking with other mothers helps.”
The biggest distinction between baby blues and postpartum is the severity and length of your symptoms. If your depression lasts longer than just a couple of weeks and it’s affecting how you care for yourself and your child, it’s time to seek help from your OB-GYN.
IS THERE A GENETIC LINK?
Your delivery went great and you have a perfect, healthy baby nestled in your arms — why are you experiencing such terrible feelings?
“Some cases of postpartum depression are due to an underlying illness that is exacerbated by high stress situations,” says Holbrook. “Some studies have shown a link to the hormonal withdrawal that occurs following a pregnancy. Others have suggested a genetic link, so it may be worth talking with your own mother about her experience.”
If you have a family history of postpartum depression, you have a higher risk of experiencing it yourself. Be sure to talk with your doctor if it is in your family line.
Postpartum depression can happen to anyone, according to Beverly Alten, M.D., at Kettering Physician Network Women’s Health in Hamilton, and it’s actually thought to be a chemical imbalance in the brain.
“It is a medical condition,” Alten says. “You don’t choose postpartum depression, you don’t ask to feel that way. It happens and it’s something you have no control over,” she adds.
Although family history or unsupportiveness for you put you at risk for depression, even the most supported and well-adjusted mom can get it, according to Alten. Talking with your significant other, doctor or close family and friends can help you recognize the signs of your out-of-kilter emotions.
Bringing home a new baby is hard enough.
“This transition is one that can lead anyone to feel overwhelmed,” assures Holbrook.
Caring for a new baby brings a big learning curve and it’s often hard to know what’s needed next. Take one day at a time, and surround yourself with unconditional support.
Losing a grip on postpartum depression can lead to postpartum psychosis, which is a lot more serious.
“If you start to consider harming yourself, the baby and other family members, this can be a sign of postpartum psychosis,” says Holbrook, “which is also characterized by a high level of confusion, delusions, hallucinations and mania.”
If you feel like you’re experiencing postpartum psychosis, consult your doctor right away. If you are unsure, still reach out and talk to your OB-GYN about how you are feeling.
There is hope, and most women do recover from postpartum depression with time, nurturing and attention.
“There’s some pretty good evidence that counseling and exercise are good treatment options,” Holbrook says.
But since having a new baby may not allow you the luxury of time, a more typical approach is medication.
“We tend to go towards the antidepressant medicine for our postpartum patients and it is safe with breastfeeding,” Holbrook says.
Standardized questionnaires during prenatal visits and during postpartum care is one way doctors can tell whether or not your feelings are on the right track, according to Holbrook.
“It (the questionaire) asks patients if they feel tearful, still enjoy their favorite activities, are sleeping well, have support or are thinking of harming themselves or others,” she says. “It helps us identify those women at higher risk for depression so that we can give them appropriate care including referrals to other specialized services.”
A little tender love and self-care goes a long way, so make sure you are carving out time for yourself. It’s easier said than done, but whether it be a few minutes of deep breathing, going on a leisurely walk, exercising or journaling, time for yourself is important for your mental and physical well-being.
“Try to remember that the months right after birth are a finite time,” says Holbrook. “Even though bringing home and caring for a baby is difficult, things will get better. As much as possible, try to reduce stress outside the home environment and find ways to get clarity and step away.”
HELP & RESOURCES
Reach out for local support if you are feeling more than blue.
Speak with a professional counselor or psychologist. Find out if your doctor/hospital provides this service or request a referral.
LINDNER CENTER OF HOPE
lindnercenterofhope.org; 513-536-HOPE (4673)
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Take time to express your emotions to the ones you love and trust the most. You need support during this huge life-change.
LOCAL SUPPORT GROUPS
Seek out support groups at postpartumdepression.org; online or in-person.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WOMEN’S SERVICES
Learn about health and wellness, plus breaks down different types of depression including postpartum.