Gone are the days of large extended families providing a village in which to rear and raise children. Gone are the days of the predominant trend being a working dad and a stay at home mom who dotes on the children. In our modern society, most families are forced to have both parents working outside the home, and alternative lifestyles and smaller nuclear families have reduced the amount of support for new parents. While most people view pregnancy and childbirth as a cause for celebration, for many pregnant women and new mothers, it is a source of significant anxiety. In today’s post, we are going to discuss the darker side of motherhood: the devastating effects of postpartum depression.

First things first, what is postpartum depression (PPD)? It is a mood disorder that affects women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others.

From the outside, people may assume behavior changes are related to lack of sleep, fear, and anxiety in their new role, or a shift in focus for the entire family. But, there is so much more that isn’t verbalized.

Everyone asks how the baby is doing, no one asks about me.
I’m no longer me, I’m just the baby’s mother.
Everyone wants to hold the baby during the day, but where is everyone once the sun goes down and I’m up alone?
“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” but do I cook when baby cooks or shower when baby showers too?
I’m still expected to look great, bounce back, have a clean house, prepare the meals, and get back to work as soon as possible.
What if I drop the baby?
What if the baby stops breathing?
(S)he’d be better off without me.

The societal and self-expectations of new mothers coupled with the overwhelming postpartum hormones and lack of sleep can wreak havoc on anyone’s emotional state. Add in stressors that include finances, lack of support, difficult pregnancy, labor, delivery, breastfeeding journey, or newborn phase, and it’s a recipe for emotional overload. But, of course, this is your new bundle of joy, so you can’t verbalize your true feelings. While some stress and anxiety is normal and you are not expected to be on cloud nine all of the time, signs and symptoms of PPD include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
  • Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
  • Worrying or feeling overly anxious
  • Feeling moody, irritable, or angry
  • Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when the baby is sleeping
  • Difficulty with concentration, memory, or judgment
  • Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
  • Suffering from physical aches and pains outside of what’s expected
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with the baby
  • Persistently doubting abilities to care for the baby
  • Thinking about harming self or her baby.

Any postpartum woman can develop PPD within the first year after delivery, but things that put women at an increased risk include:

  • Unresolved mental health or traumatic event, especially a history of depression or sexual abuse.
  • History of PPD with a previous pregnancy
  • Significant life changes during pregnancy or immediately following
  • Pregnancies that were the result of an assault or abusive relationship
  • A tumultuous relationship with a partner and/or father of the baby
  • Medical complications during pregnancy or delivery
  • Major life stressors during pregnancy or postpartum period
  • Unplanned pregnancy or mixed emotions about the pregnancy
  • Poor support network

It is important to note that PPD is not caused by something you did or did not do, nor is it a normal postpartum symptom.

If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or a new mother, it is time to intervene. Nearly 10% of postpartum women suffer from PPD, and there is help. Talk to your doctor about short term solutions, and if the PPD manifests as a result of underlying preexisting mental health conditions, getting the counseling you need from a caring therapist can greatly improve the future for both you and your baby. Contact Dr. Beth Firestien for your appointment today.