You’ve probably heard of the “baby blues.” That’s because it’s quite common for new mothers to feel a little sad, worried, or fatigued. As many as 80 percent of mothers have these feelings for a week or two following childbirth. It’s completely normal and usually fades in a few weeks.
While some of the symptoms sound the same, postpartum depression is different from the baby blues.
Postpartum depression is a lot more powerful and lasts longer. It follows about 15 percent of births, in first-time moms and those who’ve given birth before. It can cause severe mood swings, exhaustion, and a sense of hopelessness. The intensity of those feelings can make it difficult to care for your baby or yourself.
Postpartum depression shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a serious disorder, but it can be overcome through treatment.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
Although it’s normal to feel moody or fatigued after having a baby, postpartum depression goes well beyond that. Its symptoms are severe and can interfere with your ability to function.
Symptoms of postpartum depression vary person to person and even day to day. If you have postpartum depression, chances are you’re familiar with several of these indicators:
- You feel sad or cry a lot, even when you don’t know why.
- You’re exhausted, but you can’t sleep.
- You sleep too much.
- You can’t stop eating, or you aren’t interested in food at all.
- You have various unexplained aches, pains, or illnesses.
- You don’t know why you’re irritable, anxious, or angry.
- Your moods change suddenly and without warning.
- You feel out of control.
- You have difficulty remembering things.
- You can’t concentrate or make simple decisions.
- You have no interest in things you used to enjoy.
- You feel disconnected from your baby and wonder why you’re not filled with joy like you thought you’d be.
- Everything feels overwhelming and hopeless.
- You feel worthless and guilty about your feelings.
- You feel like you can’t open up to anyone because they’ll think you’re a bad mother or take your baby, so you withdraw.
- You want to escape from everyone and everything.
- You have intrusive thoughts about harming yourself or your baby.
Your friends and family may notice that you’re withdrawing from them and from social activities or that you just don’t seem like yourself.
Symptoms are most likely to start within a few weeks of delivery. Sometimes, postpartum depression doesn’t surface until months later. Symptoms may let up for a day or two and then return. Without treatment, symptoms may continue to worsen.
Treatment for postpartum depression
If you have symptoms of postpartum depression, you should see your doctor as soon as possible so that you can get started on treatment.
There are two main treatments for postpartum depression: medication and therapy. Either one can be used alone, but they may be more effective when used together. It’s also important to make some healthy choices in your daily routine.
It may take a few tries to find out what treatment works for you. Keep open communication with your doctor.
Antidepressants have a direct effect on the brain. They alter the chemicals that regulate mood. They won’t work right away, though. It can take several weeks of taking the medication before you notice a difference in your mood.
Some people have side effects while taking antidepressants. These may include fatigue, decreased sex drive, and dizziness. If side effects seem to be making your symptoms worse, tell your doctor right away.
Some antidepressants are safe to take if you’re breastfeeding, but others may not be. Be sure to tell your doctor if you breastfeed.
If your estrogen levels are low, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy.
A psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional can provide counseling. Therapy can help you make sense of destructive thoughts and offer strategies for working through them.
This part of treatment may be a little more difficult than it sounds. Practicing self-care means cutting yourself some slack.
You shouldn’t attempt to shoulder more responsibility than you can handle. Others may not instinctively know what you need, so it’s important to tell them. Take some “me time,” but don’t isolate yourself. Consider joining a support group for new mothers.
Alcohol is a depressant, so you should steer clear of it. Instead, give your body every opportunity to heal. Eat a well-balanced diet and get some exercise each day, even if it’s only a walk around the neighborhood.
Treatment helps most women feel better within six months, though it can take longer.