Postpartum Depression: What Every New Mom Needs to Know

One of the tragedies of postpartum depression (PPD) is that most women who suffer from this illness, do not realize what they are going through, so they end up experiencing needless pain for months and sometimes years.

That’s why all new moms and their loved ones should familiarize themselves with the symptoms and risk factors of postpartum depression, so they can seek professional help in a timely matter.

Here is everything you need to know about postpartum depression in plain English.  

If at any time, you believe that postpartum depression is affecting the lives of you and your family, it’s imperative that you seek a professional opinion as soon as possible.

What Exactly Is Postpartum Depression?

When you have a baby, you’re expected to glow. After all, you just gave birth to a beautiful child that you carried for nine months. You should be thinking about how you get to watch them grow as you guide them through life, excited for what’s to come, right?

Well, for approximately 10 percent of new mothers, this isn’t the case.

Feelings of happiness and sheer joy, are somehow replaced with feelings of confusion and despair.

You begin to ask yourself, what is going on with me? Why do I feel this way?

If you have found that you’re overly exhausted, sad and stressed, unable to perform daily activities, you may have what’s known as postpartum depression (PPD). This can lead to symptoms you did not know were possible for you to personally feel. You may even feel as though you’re trapped in someone else’s body.

After all, how could you possibly feel so overwhelmed all of a sudden? Why are you crying all the time, becoming angry, avoiding your family, and worst of all, feeling as though you’re unable to care for your baby?

How Common Is Postpartum Depression?

Although cases of PPD are reported among around 10 percent of new mothers, it’s believed that this number is actually significantly higher. Since so many affected mothers avoid treatment, either based on a lack of understanding, fear, or embarrassment, prevalence is likely underreported.

In fact, within one key study, ten thousand mothers underwent screening, with positive findings in 1396 of these participants— which equates to 14 percent, or 1 in 7 women. Of those who tested positive, these women were more likely to be younger, African American, single, less well-educated, and publicly insured.

What is the Difference Between Postpartum Depression and Regular Depression?

Before we jump into the possible causes and risk factors of PPD, it’s important to differentiate between general depression and PPD. To put it simply, the main factors include:

Timing — PPD occurs after childbirth, so although you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, if you have recently given birth, you are likely suffering from PPD.

Hormonal changes — When depression occurs after pregnancy, these changes are typically linked to unique hormonal changes. This is especially true for women who are more sensitive to shifts in progesterone and estrogen.

What is the Difference Between Postpartum Depression and the “Baby Blues”?

When it comes to the baby blues, there are a lot more similarities. In fact, approximately 70 to 80 percent of new mothers will suffer from this common feeling of sadness. This is simply due to hormonal changes — which can make new mothers feel guilty and shameful.

Think of it this way — during your pregnancy, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are significantly elevated. Once you give birth, these hormone levels plummet, triggering a neurobiological reaction. To compare ‘baby blues’ and PPD, the key differences are:

Duration — The baby blues will typically last around 10-12 days, but everyone is different. If you’re still feeling a little down on day 15, don’t automatically assume you’re spiraling into a state of depression — we’re all unique, so be aware of your symptoms.

Intensity — PPD is much more intense in terms of the symptoms and emotions experienced.

Keep in mind:

It’s best to be aware of PPD and the baby blues before you give birth. That way, you’ll know what to expect.

Know what the signs are for both, so that you can transition into motherhood without feeling overwhelmed or fearful.

Many women report feeling as though they’re suffering from extreme PMS during the baby blues,  so crying often and feeling anxious is fairly normal. If your symptoms last for more than two weeks or you’re having abnormal thoughts surrounding your baby, it’s important that you’re evaluated by an ob-gyn.

Am I At Risk for Postpartum Depression?

Whether you are three months pregnant or have just given birth, risk assessment is critical. When you become more aware of what makes you susceptible, you can better understand your symptoms, leading to early intervention.

Although researchers are still within the beginning stages in relation to biological factors, a number of social and psychological factors are well understood. Please review the following risk factors, in order to better understand how your past and present, may affect your future.

  • Life stressors during pregnancy
  • Complicated pregnancy and/or birth
  • Difficult relationship with family or partner
  • Lack of support from family or friends
  • Prior history of depression or anxiety
  • Chronic stressors postpartum, such as issues with child care
  • Unemployment or instability
  • Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
  • Poor relationship with own mother
  • History of sexual abuse
  • Depression during pregnancy
  • Lower social class
  • Bottle feeding
  • Possible biological factors may include inflammatory markers and oxytocin

Remember, the above variables are possible risk factors. Not everyone who experiences unemployment, for instance, will go on to experience PPD.

Similarly, just because you lack support from your partner, doesn’t mean that you will develop symptoms — you’re just at a greater risk in comparison to women who do not experience the above variables.

On the other hand, it is possible to develop postpartum depression even if don’t have any of the risk factors.

How Do I Know If I Need to Get Help?

Might you be suffering from postpartum depression?  To answer that, it’s critical that you challenge your thoughts and behaviors.

You need to ask yourself the following…

  • Am I having trouble sleeping?
  • Have I been feeling overly exhausted, lasting most of the day?
  • Have there been changes in my appetite (likely eating less than usual)?
  • Am I constantly questioning whether or not I will ever have time for myself again?
  • Am I becoming more anxious than usual, worrying about things that never bothered me before?
  • Have I questioned the relationship with my child?
  • Am I worrying that my partner is getting sick of the way I have been feeling and behaving?
  • Am I unusually upset, crying often? Do I cry over the smallest of things?
  • Have my loved ones commented that I have become overly moody and or irritable?
  • Have I withdrawn from the hobbies I love?
  • Am I beginning to isolate myself from those I love?
  • Have I stopped leaving the house?
  • Have I had panic attacks — either what seems to be out-of-the-blue or more frequent?
  • Am I struggling to focus and maintain attention?
  • Do I feel hopeless?
  • Have I noticed that I feel guilty, without having any reason to?
  • Have I ever considered harming myself?
  • Am I experiencing delusional thinking, as expressed by my loved ones?
  • Have I struggled with depression and/or anxiety in the past?
  • Did I recently go through a stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one?
  • Have I lost interest in sex?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then there is a good chance that you may be suffering from postpartum depression.

Print out the checklist below by Postpartum Progress, fill it out, and hand it to your health practitioner:

perinatal mental disorder checklist

If you have ever experienced aggressive thoughts towards your baby, thinking about harming them, you need to seek an immediate professional opinion.

Remember, although you may feel helpless and scared, this mood disorder is common — and more importantly, treatable.

What Should I Do If I Think Someone I Know Might Have Postpartum Depression?

For many women, the unfortunate reality is that they are unaware that they’re suffering from postpartum depression. If your wife, daughter, sister or friend recently gave birth, and you notice that they’re not quite themselves, it’s important for you to lend your support.

Here are a few tips:

Just listen — If your loved one is snappy or erratic at times, it may mean they need you more than ever. Don’t let them push you away, just listen. Let them know that you’re there to help them. If they begin to open up, review the checklist below with them. Together, you can work towards a solution.

Give her space, but be supportive — Don’t immediately bombard her with suggestions, as this may be overwhelming. Just be there for them — be gentle and patient, but persistent in terms of your support.

Encourage — If you see that issues are arising, encourage your loved one to speak with a professional. In many cases, this can help individuals see that what they’re going through is actually quite common. Knowing that they’re not alone, can alter their perspective.

Final Note For New Moms

If you might be suffering from postpartum depression know that you are not alone. Postpartum depression is serious and needs immediate medical attention especially if there are suicidal thoughts. Medications are often successful but may take weeks to kick in. The FDA recently approved a new drug, Zulresso (brexanolone) for moderate to severe PPD refractory to other medications. It must be administered by IV in the hospital over 60 hours but the effects appear to be immediate. The downside is that the drug costs $34,000 and may not be covered by insurance.

After all, as Katherine Stone, founder and CEO of Postpartum Progress once said, “You are not alone. These are real illnesses, they are not your fault — and they do not make you a bad mom.”

In fact, acknowledging that you may be suffering from this condition is the first step. As you increase your awareness in order to take positive action, that will be one of the most heroic things you could do — both for you and your baby.

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