“It’s not supposed to be like this,” one patient grappling with sadness after giving birth to her second child recently told me. “I’m supposed to be happy.”
As a healthcare practitioner, the first thing I tell new moms who come to me confused by feelings of sadness and anxiety following the birth of their child: You’re not alone. And postpartum depression—which is a medical condition—is not a sign of weakness. In fact, the American Psychological Association estimates that it’s common for one in seven women to experience postpartum depression—a condition that’s more than the so-called baby blues. It involves complex and overwhelming feelings of stress, loneliness and fatigue, often compounded by crying and inertia.
Postpartum depression, or PPD, can happen days, weeks or even months following childbirth. It’s not known exactly why some women fall victim to PPD and others don’t—genetics likely play a role, as do hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and the inevitable sleep deprivation that typically accompanies taking care of a newborn.
But instead of letting their individual situations fester, I encourage women to seek prompt treatment for PPD. It’s the last thing a new mom wants to do—admit she’s crying, anxious, frightened or assuming she’s failing at motherhood—but it’s critical to take action.
And moms who have experienced loss due to miscarriage or stillbirth are particularly susceptible to PPD.
The most important thing if you have persistent, negative feelings is to not be embarrassed and to have a frank discussion with your healthcare provider. One of my roles is to educate patients about PPD, which I do during pregnancy so they know signs and symptoms and how to be proactive.
Experiences that create a higher risk for depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some women may be a higher risk for depression due to these scenarios:
- Difficulty getting pregnant.
- Being a mom to multiples, like twins, or triplets.
- Losing a baby.
- Being a teen mom.
- Preterm (before 37 weeks) labor and delivery.
- Having a baby with a birth defect or disability.
- Pregnancy and birth complications.
- Having a baby or infant hospitalized.
Symptoms of PPD.
Similar to feelings of depression—lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood; feelings of
hopelessness or pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness—PPD symptoms may also include:
- Crying more often than usual.
- Feelings of anger.
- Withdrawing from loved ones.
- Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby.
- Worrying that you will hurt the baby.
- Feeling guilty about not being a good mom or doubting your ability to care for the baby.
PPD is treatable.
Although I refer some patients to specialists who work with PPD, I recommend several things to new moms, regardless of whether or not they are experiencing depression.
- Walk or practice yoga. If you’re a runner or cyclist, wait until your healthcare provider says it’s safe to return to that form of exercise.
- Guided meditation, or just making a quiet spot at home to reflect and read motivational or inspiration books, is an excellent tool, especially if you incorporate it into your daily routing.
- Eat a health diet—for your sake and your baby’s. Get plenty of vegetables, fruit and protein and drink water to stay hydrated.
- Talk to other women, your partner or your friends or find a support group. Silence about your feelings won’t help—be honest. And talking with other women on the same journey can be life changing—to know you’re not alone.
Seek help immediately from your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t go away.