Let’s Talk: Postpartum Depression

Heart health
Health Articles
April 6, 2017

Welcoming a new baby can be an emotional time for everyone involved, but especially for moms. Even with the physical stress of labor behind you, between sleep deprivation, little free time, and fear—especially if it’s your first child—it’s natural to feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster for a while after the birth. But how do you know when you’re going off the rails? Read on to learn the basic warning signs and symptoms of postpartum depression.

What is it?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, postpartum depression (PPD) is defined as “moderate to severe depression in a woman after she has given birth.” While it may occur at any time within the first year of the baby being born, generally, “it occurs within the first three months after delivery.” Although the cause of postpartum depression remains unknown, there are a few factors—such as hormones, changes in the body and relationships, less free time, and sleep deprivation—which can contribute to its severity.

Baby blues or postpartum depression?

Jamie Malone, a counselor with Insight Counseling and Consulting provides the following guidelines for differentiating between the baby blues and postpartum depression: “The baby blues are normal—or very common—for the first two days to two weeks following Baby’s arrival. Anything that extends beyond this time is of concern.” Additionally, she explains that even though women with the baby blues may experience fatigue and tearfulness, “their predominant mood is happiness.” Postpartum depression, on the other hand, includes feelings such as guilt, anger, and disconnect or emptiness. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it can also lead mothers to “have little interest in the baby,” or conversely, to “worry intensely about the baby.”

If you’re having difficulty differentiating between these two conditions, Ciji C. Gamble, the owner and lead counselor of Maternal Counseling Services in Portage, Michigan, suggests considering “severity, timing, and duration” when evaluating postpartum depression. When it comes to severity, according to Gamble, “the baby blues symptoms are typically mild” compared to the symptoms of postpartum depression, which “tend to feel overwhelming.” Additionally, while the timing of baby blues symptoms “can occur minutes after delivery,” they tend to reach their peak within three to five days, and should not last longer than two weeks after your baby is born.

Postpartum anxiety might be as common as depression.

Although most people have heard of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety might be as common and can happen at the same time as PPD. Panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are just some of the symptoms that can occur. In short, just because a new mother isn’t crying or sad, doesn’t mean she isn’t suffering. Any mood disorder after pregnancy is something that deserves attention.

Are some people more likely to develop mood disorders after pregnancy?

Yes, certain factors can make someone more likely to experience postpartum depression or anxiety. From job loss to a traumatic birth experience to difficulty breastfeeding, there are many factors and life stresses that can make a woman more prone. The Mayo Clinic has a good list of common risk factors.

When should you seek help?

If you or someone you love is struggling with postpartum depression, it’s important to know when it’s time to seek help. The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests contacting a medical professional if “your baby blues do not go away after two weeks, it is hard for you to perform tasks at work or at home, you cannot care for yourself or your baby,” or if “you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.”

Because postpartum mood disorders can be so debilitating to new mothers, it’s important to remember that help and treatment are available. If you think you are suffering, don’t be afraid to reach out. You are not alone, and you and your baby deserve to have a happy, healthy first year together.