A woman’s identity changes when she becomes a mother. She starts to become known as so-and-so’s mom. People want to see the baby, not her. Priorities shift as she considers the needs of this helpless human, who demands her time and attention. When all is well, she is happy and eager to pour out love and affection. But what happens when that happiness wanes? When everything feels like a chore or a burden? When helplessness or resentment take over?
“Baby Blues” vs Postpartum Depression
There comes a time in a mother’s life, especially a new mother, when she feels overwhelmed. Housework is mounting, sleep is lacking, hormones are temperamental. The good news is that these feelings and stresses are normal. About 80 percent of all new mothers’ experience feelings of helplessness or anxiety. And yet these are experiences that are rarely talked about. These experiences can include thoughts and feelings that women feel ashamed of, but that are normal. When those negative feelings linger more than the first few weeks after giving birth, that may be a sign of something bigger. This is called postpartum depression.
Many women experience some depressive symptoms within the first week of giving birth: crying, low motivation, feeling sad, high stress levels, exhaustion. These “baby blues” as some call them, affect nearly 4 in 5 women, but usually disappear after the first few weeks. This is a natural reaction to the influx of hormones, physical strain of birth, and overall change of having a baby in the home. When those feelings persist for weeks on end, that is a sign of something more serious: postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a condition that affects up to 1 in 5 women who have given birth. It includes all the same feelings as regular depression, but they last longer or may be intensified. These include feelings of helplessness or worthlessness and can even lead to thoughts of harming yourself or your child. PPD can be debilitating or lead to feelings of being incapable as a mother, but it doesn’t last forever.
Tips for Dealing with Postpartum Depression
If you can, breastfeed. New research has shown that breastfeeding has a strong connection with postpartum depression. Women who breastfeed tend to have a decreased risk for developing or sustaining postpartum depression. Not all women are physically able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, and if you can’t, there’s no need to feel bad about it. But if you can, breastfeeding provides great benefits for both the mother and child.
Obviously, this can be hard with a newborn baby, but sleep has profound effects on how you feel on a day-to-day basis. Try to sleep when the baby when sleeps as often as you can. Ask a friend or relative to come watch the baby while you sleep.
Women who experience PPD are at a higher risk for experiencing other issues, such as suicidal thoughts and increased anxiety. If left untreated, these can have major consequences for you and your family. Talk to a health care professional or seek therapy. Seeking professional help can help alleviate these issues and lead to a much more satisfying life for you and your family.
In some cases, medication can be a helpful option for women struggling with PPD. Talk to your doctor and be open about your symptoms. Be sure to learn about medication side effects before adding anything new, especially if you are breastfeeding or taking any other medication. Your doctor or pharmacist can help with any questions you may have.
Remember, you’re not alone and you don’t have to live with these feelings! You don’t have to carry any shame for feeling down or struggling. You can reach out for help and find a way through with patience, self-kindness and support.
Read more about PPD:
Contributed by Elisa Squier, M.MFT, LMFT Associate
Clinical Supervision by Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT-S, LPC-S