Bringing a new baby into the family can introduce a whole host of emotions, from excitement and joy to sadness and anxiety. The flux of hormones coupled with the extreme life change, be it your first baby or your fifth, can contribute to several of these negative feelings. This can cause both confusion and even guilt for many mamas who may feel a sense of shame surrounding this unexpected mental state, which is why it’s even more important to open the dialogue — so no one has to feel alone.
The ‘Baby Blues’ vs. Postpartum Depression
The vast majority of women (up to 80 percent) may experience a period known as the “baby blues” following childbirth, which can start a few days after delivery and last up to two weeks. This mild and temporary form of depression can include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and feelings of being overwhelmed, and symptoms should disappear on their own within a couple of weeks.
But if these feelings of extreme sadness persist or intensify, they could lead to postpartum depression, which can interfere with a woman’s ability to care both for herself and for her family. PPD symptoms can mirror that of the “baby blues” but for a longer time period and might also include withdrawal from loved ones, difficulty bonding with your baby, changes in appetite or sleep, intense feelings or irritability and anger, hopelessness, harmful thoughts or feelings of worthlessness. While the condition can occur any time after childbirth, it typically begins between a week and a month post-delivery and occurs in nearly 15 percent of births (or as many as one in seven). The key is to not feel embarrassed or ashamed by PPD — it does not mean you are failing as a mother — in fact, the more you talk about it, either with a spouse, a trusted friend or a doctor, the quicker you can overcome it.
Common Risk Factors of PPD
While postpartum depression can affect anyone regardless of age, race, ethnicity or status, some women may be at a greater risk for developing the condition, especially if they pose one or more of the below factors:
- Past experience with depression or bipolar disorder, or symptoms that occurred during or following a previous pregnancy.
- A family history of postpartum depression or mental illness.
- High stress in general such as financial or emotional strain or a stressful life event that occurs during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth, such as a job loss, personal illness or the death of a loved one.
- Medical complications that arise during labor and delivery such as a premature birth or having a baby with unexpected medical issues or special needs.
- A lack of emotional support from your partner, family and friends, leading to immense feelings of loneliness.
- Alcohol or substance abuse problems.
How to Reduce the Risk of PPD
There are several things you can do to avoid the onset of postpartum depression, even if you may be at a higher risk. A few include:
- Talk about it. Discussing your feelings with your spouse, a fellow mom friend or a mental health counselor can provide some relief and help reduce any potential feelings of shame or guilt.
- Join a moms group. Spending time with other women who can relate can help alleviate any feelings of isolation or loneliness. Local resources include Jacksonville Mom, MomsClub.org, MOPS.org and the Postpartum Support Group at Baptist Health.
- Relax and practice self-care. Take some time for yourself each day to recharge, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Regularly cultivating gratitude can also help change your mindset.
- Exercise and make your health a priority. Boosting your activity level can promote those feel-good endorphins and both prevent and help treat PPD.
- Give yourself grace. You’re not a superhero — you can only do so much. Set limits so you don’t become overwhelmed and take those early days with a new baby one at a time. As they say, the hours are long, but the years are short. This too shall pass.
Effective Treatment Options
If you find yourself struggling with PPD, your healthcare provider can help determine the best course of action, which may include:
- Counseling and talk therapy: You doctor can provide a referral to a mental health professional who may try one of any number of therapies, one being cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you recognize and alter negative thoughts and behaviors.
- Medication: Antidepressants can be helpful in the short term and long term to help regulate mood swings and symptoms of depression. Many medications are also considered safe to use while breastfeeding — your doctor can tell you more about the benefits or any potential risks to you and your baby.
With effective treatment, symptoms of postpartum depression can subside in 8 to 12 weeks.