July 15, 2021

Postpartum Depression: Becoming a New Mother

Postpartum depression is something that many encounter, however, as women, everything we learn about motherhood is positive. The joy of holding your baby in your arms. The beauty of breastfeeding; the sweetness of bonding. And the rewards of watching your child grow. This is why, when a new mother experiences sadness, anxiety, or irritability in the weeks following delivery she is likely to be confused and even ashamed. We can lessen the loneliness felt by many new mothers with an open discussion about the difficulties often encountered after childbirth, as well as knowing how to recognize when a new mother needs additional support.

Most new moms experience what is known colloquially as the “baby blues”—with symptoms from mood swings to crying to hypervigilance over the baby’s safety and wellbeing. These emotions are associated with the sudden drop in hormones following your baby’s birth and are commonly experienced for up to two weeks post-delivery.

In some cases, a more severe and longer-lasting set of mood symptoms can occur, known as postpartum or perinatal depression (PPD). In very rare cases, a new mother may even experience something called postpartum psychosis. If a mother or someone in her life notices that mom’s “baby blues” don’t seem to be going away, professional help is warranted.

So how do you know if you’re dealing with postpartum depression, versus the milder baby blues? Let’s look at the symptoms of both.

In baby blues, our new mother can expect:

  • – mood swings
  • – appetite increase or decrease
  • – irritability 
  • – fogginess
  • – sadness
  • – anxiety
  • – crying
  • – irritability

As for postpartum depression: We find many of the baby-blues symptoms, but those experienced here are more intense and longer-lasting. The new mother may feel debilitated by the severity of her depression and anxiety. In addition, she is likely to experience recurring and intrusive negative thoughts, causing her extreme distress.

Symptoms of PPD include:

  • – overwhelming fatigue or energy loss
  • – intense irritability or rage
  • – fear that you are not a good mother
  • – feelings of detachment from the baby
  • – excessive crying
  • – hopelessness
  • – withdrawing from family and friends
  • – extreme loss of or increase in appetite
  • – guilt and shame
  • – severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • – intrusive or recurring thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • – suicidality

Finally, post-partum psychosis—a much rarer condition that can develop the first week post-delivery—can cause obsessive thoughts about the baby, hallucinations and delusions, confusion, sleep disturbance, excessive agitation, paranoia, and even attempts to harm yourself or your baby.

This all sounds very scary, but the good news is that with prompt medical intervention mothers can overcome even the most debilitating symptoms of post-partum depression and psychosis. If “blues-like” feelings don’t fade after two weeks or are so severe as to be intolerable, our new mother and her loved ones should contact a doctor immediately.

Most important: never tolerate suicidal thoughts in yourself or others. Call a suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK) and get the help you need and deserve. 

One of the best strategies for dealing with post-partum depression is to be proactive. While we don’t know what causes this condition, we do know some risk factors:

  • – postpartum depression in a previous pregnancy
  • – family members with depression and mood disorders
  • – a history of the mother’s own depression and mood disorders
  • – multiple births
  • – difficulty with spousal or partner relationship
  • – weak support system
  • – financial problems
  • – an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

If you have any of these risk factors, don’t wait. Prepare for the possibility of post-partum depression by notifying your mental health professional in advance and ask your OBGYN for a post-partum follow-up to make sure this issue does not fall through the cracks. So long as you address post-partum depression and psychosis promptly, you have every reason to expect recovery. Mental health professionals are standing by to support you in doing just that.