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by Emily Buckley, editor-in-chief 

Take a guess at which number is higher: the number of people who have a stroke, the number of people who sprain an ankle or the number of women who experience postpartum depression each year. You may be surprised that the answer is postpartum depression.

“Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that as many as one in five women suffer from postpartum or peripartum depression, mood and anxiety disorders,” said Tyler Christensen, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Logan Regional Hospital.

So how is a woman to know whether she is suffering from postpartum depression or ordinary nerves? “There are many psychosocial changes occurring during pregnancy and after. [Women’s] whole lives and identities change with the stress of a newborn baby, changes in the dynamics their marriage relationship and changes in time for hobbies and self,” Tyler said. “With all of this, it is normal to have worries and feel overwhelmed.”

Pregnant woman holding belly

While these feelings, often referred to as the “baby blues,” are common (occurring in 70 to 80 percent of new mothers), it is important not to ignore them, Tyler said.

Taking care of mom is the best way to decrease the symptoms of the “baby blues.” There are several different ways, according to americanpregnancy.org, that women can care for themselves if they are experiencing the “baby blues.”

  • Talk with someone they trust about their feelings.
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet. Too many simple carbohydrates can make mood swings more pronounced.
  • Get outside to enjoy fresh air and life outside the confines of diapers, feedings and spit-up.
  • Ask for or accept help: help with meals, other children, getting into a “routine” or other things that allow them to focus on the joy of having a new baby and not just the pressure of juggling it all.
  • Don’t expect perfection in the first few weeks. Allow time to heal from birth, adjust to the new “job” and for feeding and sleeping routines to settle in.

“If symptoms of the baby blues increase in frequency or intensity, last for more than two weeks or impair functioning of day-to-day demands, it may be something more serious,” Tyler said. “Be honest with your care provider in your follow-up appointments. You are not going to shock them with your feelings.”

Common symptoms of postpartum or peripartum depression include:

  • Sadness lasting most of the day, almost every day
  • Frequent crying
  • Lack of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Severe energy loss (low energy and tiredness/wanting to sleep all day)
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in people or activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of hurting self or baby

“Even if other symptoms seem mild, if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, don’t take them lightly. This is not normal and you should talk to a physician immediately,” Tyler said. “There could be a sense of a stigma that it is not OK to need help or that the feelings experienced mean a woman is a ‘weak’ or ‘bad’ mother. None of those things are true.”

Women experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression should talk to their OB/GYN or primary care provider, or a psychologist or counselor. If feelings are immediately intense, go to the emergency room or call 911.