Emily Buckley, editor in chief
Having a new baby is supposed to be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, but after giving birth, many women (up to 85 percent) experience up to two weeks of “baby blues.” This period is marked with moodiness, anxiety, sadness, and unexplained crying — among other symptoms. Many sources site the cause of these “blues” as a result of hormone changes, stress from labor and delivery, and certainly, lack of sleep.
For many women, the “baby blues” subside and they settle into a new routine, but for many others, they turn into postpartum depression (PPD).
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), approximately 15 percent of new mothers will experience postpartum depression. Symptoms may begin within a few days after delivery or sometimes as late as a year after childbirth. Women who experience postpartum depression will have alternating good days and bad days. Symptoms can be mild or severe and usually last more than two weeks.
So, how does a new mom, or those who care for her, know if she is just having a “bad day” or week, or is experiencing something more serious?
Anna Lara, PAC, at the Cache Valley Women’s Center at the Lodge, says it is hard to pinpoint the start of postpartum depression, but if a new mom is having more bad days than good, people around her are starting to notice that she is not acting like herself, or if symptoms are getting progressively worse, she has reason to talk to her physician.
The APA says symptoms of postpartum depression vary from person to person, and it is not likely that a woman will experience all of them, but the following symptoms, especially if they are ongoing or become more severe, can be cause for concern:
- Irritability or anger/mood swings
- Sleep problems, such as insomnia or excessive sleep
- Appetite changes
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of interest in the baby
- Thoughts of harming the baby
- Memory loss
- Sense of guilt or shame
- Sense of doom
- Scary/odd thoughts repeating in your mind
“People who are really struggling may have a hard time coming in,” Lara said. “We usually find that when women do come in, they are at their lowest and often come because other people have noticed changes in their behavior and expressed their concern.”
Lara said that if a new mom experiences thoughts of suicide or harming her children, she should go to the emergency room immediately.
“They have programs and crisis workers in place to help you right away. If you don’t want to go the ER, go to your physician’s office,” she said.
Coping with postpartum depression
“Depression doesn’t always look like hopelessness or inability to get out of bed,” Lara said. “It can also come in the shape of anxiety or fear. There is a big stigma about mental illness, and people are often scared to admit feelings of depression. But, it is common, and there are people, like us, who are here to help control those overwhelming feelings.”
If you develop postpartum depression, your doctor may suggest medication or therapy.
“There are medications that are safe for nursing mothers,” Lara said.
Lara suggested the following additional ways to help with postpartum depression:
Make time for self-care. Eat healthy meals, exercise four or five times a week (even just a 20-minute walk), and get enough sleep.
Be patient. Treatment can help, but it may take time to feel like yourself again.
Say “yes” to help. Take people up on their offers to help around the house, watch the baby so you can sleep, run errands for you, or be there to listen when you need to talk. If you don’t have a circle who can help, ask your physician about local resources.
Say “no” sometimes. Let go of some responsibilities and simplify where you can.
Find a support group. It helps to be around other people who have experienced postpartum depression and can share experiences and coping skills.
Take time with your spouse. Go on dates and spend time together without your children.
Get regular doses of Vitamin D. It is hard to get enough Vitamin D, especially during the winter. Consider taking a supplement.