Postpartum Depression: The Baby Blues
The baby blues include mood swings and feelings of anxiety and sadness that typically emerge 3-5 days after giving birth and dissipate on their own within a few weeks. 70% of new moms experience this temporary change in mood. The baby blues differ from postpartum depression in the length of time in which the symptoms peak as well as the severity of the symptoms.
“There’s societal pressure to feel happy and blissful, so women don’t talk about [the baby blues]. There’s enormous guilt and shame.” – Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody
“This is an illness that takes away a women’s ability to access joy right at the time she needs it most.” – Dr. Katherine Wisner
Studies estimate that one in seven women will experience postpartum depression. Within three months after giving birth, 10-15% of women experience a major depressive episode while 20% of women experience a minor depressive episode. Postpartum depression is not exclusive to mothers. Studies show that 10% of new fathers may experience depressive episodes as well. Postpartum depression can start at any time before your child’s first birthday. PPD isn’t limited to first-time moms either. You can develop it after your second or third children. Even if it didn’t take place after your first child.
Signs of postpartum depression
There are common signs of postpartum depression. You may notice feeling sad and guilty due to minimal interest in bonding with or caring for your baby. You may be experiencing a loss of hope. Or perhaps you may cry a lot. Even if you don’t know the reason why. You may notice yourself becoming extremely sensitive. Having a loss of interest in food and sex. Sleeping too much and having trouble focusing or remembering things.
Risk factors for postpartum depression
During pregnancy, hormone levels rise. After giving birth, there is a rapid and sudden drop in hormones which can trigger depression. A woman who suffered from depression prior to becoming pregnant is at a greater risk of developing PPD. In addition, a family history of depression adds to the risk as the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests a genetic contribution to the development of postpartum depression. Other risk factors include marital stress, lack of support, low self-esteem, age, complications during pregnancy, childhood trauma and fatigue.
Did you plan to become pregnant? If you didn’t, you have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. The added stress of caring for another human being, lack of sleep and poor nutrition typically worsen the symptoms of PPD. In addition, if you experienced postpartum depression in previous births, you have a 50% chance of developing it again in subsequent deliveries. PPD can be more common and more extreme for mothers and their children in low-income areas.
This screening takes just five minutes and it will help to assess your mood, anxiety, and guilt in the past week: https://psychology-tools.com/epds/
Postpartum psychosis is rarer than postpartum depression and is considered a medical emergency. This diagnosis requires medication and almost always hospitalization. Psychosis is evidenced by hallucinations, delusions and violent behaviors. These symptoms are usually noticed within the first few weeks after giving birth. Other indicators of postpartum psychosis include rapid mood swings, being unable to sleep, confusion, being obsessive about your baby, refusing to eat, being paranoid of others and having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
“There’s so much stigma about postpartum depression. As a society, we expect it to be the happiest time of a woman’s life. A lot of women don’t report if they’re having symptoms.” –Dr. Susan Hatters Friedman, Case Western Reserve University
Are you able to identify with the descriptions of postpartum depression? Consider psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy.” Individual therapy, couples therapy, and group therapy are all effective options to consider for treatment. Within individual therapy, there are three preferred approaches to treating postpartum depression most effectively. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you with recognition of negative thinking and strategies on how to challenge these thoughts. CBT focuses on the principle that beliefs and behaviors are closely related to mood. CBT can be helpful in addressing issues such as feelings of inadequacy, self-esteem and overcoming guilt.
Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) can help with processing relationships and stressors so that they don’t affect your life now. IPT addresses patterns and connections between the past and present, relationships, and the individual’s mood as well as securing reliable support systems. Person-centered counseling is a nondirective approach that uses empathy and the avoidance of judgment to provide a safe and supportive therapeutic environment. If you are a new mom, you likely set high standards for yourself and participation in therapy can help you set more realistic expectations, manage your stress more effectively and achieve a more balanced way of thinking.
If therapy is helping reduce depression but not entirely alleviate it, medication can also be added to the treatment regimen. Some mothers are hesitant to ingest medications. This is due to the potential effect on their baby as all medications are passed into breast milk. The “Identifying and Treating Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders” program conducted by the Allegheny Health Network, reports the existence of minimal data disqualifying the use of antidepressants during and after pregnancy, stating that very small amounts of medication are actually received by the infant via breast milk. Consulting a health care provider such as a psychiatrist is recommended to discuss concerns and psychotropic treatment options.
Self-care is also incredibly important. And it doesn’t always mean manicures and bubble baths; self-care means any activity done to promote emotional, mental and physical health. Self-care isn’t a selfish act. But rather necessary for individuals in order to be able to care for others as well. Suggestions for self-care as a new mom include taking a brisk walk, sleeping when your baby is sleeping, sitting down with a good book, binge-watching a few episodes of Friends, calling a family member or trusted friend for advice or comfort and prioritizing nutrition.
The Quick Version?
The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals suggest the following steps to decrease anxiety and depression. These steps also promote well-being in general. You need to make sure you’re getting enough rest. Call a family member or a friend when help is needed. Eat a balanced diet. Exercise at least three times a week. Join a mothers’ support group. Waiting at least six weeks after giving birth before returning to work.
Avoiding or ignoring the symptoms of postpartum depression can have a negative effect on your ability to connect with your baby. And therefore potentially influence your child’s development. In fact, studies show that depression can inhibit a mother’s ability to respond to infant cues appropriately which is associated with lower cognitive functioning and poor emotional development. There is also a greater disease susceptibility in children with mothers experiencing major stress. Mothers with chronic depression can even cause behavioral problems and psychopathology (anxiety, depression, etc.) later in their child’s life.
Feeling overwhelmed and alone?
The therapists at Cristina Panaccione and Associates would love to help you navigate through these struggles. Call us today to schedule an appointment: 412-439-1416 or contact us for more information.
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” –Osho