Becoming a new mother can trigger a swarm of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy, to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect – depression. Postpartum depression is a serious mental health condition that can occur in the weeks and months following the birth of a child. For new moms, this can be extremely overwhelming and scary. Postpartum depression can be mistaken for “the baby blues” at first, but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after childbirth, but may begin later – up to six months after birth.
Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
- Crying more often that usual or for no apparent reason
- Worrying or feeling overly anxious
- Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
- Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when your baby is asleep
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Experiencing anger or rage
- Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Eating too little or too much
- Withdrawing from or avoiding friends and family
- Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with your baby
- Having constant doubts about your ability to care for your baby
- Thinking about harming yourself or your baby
Along with these symptoms, there are five general stages of postpartum depression:
- Denial: You’ll think, “I can’t have postpartum depression. This must just be what new motherhood is like. I’ll be fine; I just need more sleep. It’ll wear off.”
- Anger: You will have a difficult time understanding why this is happening. You will think, “Why is this happening to me? No one understands what I am going through! This is so unfair!”
- Bargaining: In this stage, you’ll try to make a deal with yourself to make things better. “I just need to get the baby to sleep through the night, then I’ll be okay. I just need to work harder.”
- Depression: You’ve done everything you could to avoid this, but it’s here. This is the stage where you’ll have awful thoughts such as, “My baby doesn’t deserve me as a mother. My family would be better off without me. I’m never going to be a good mother.”
- Acceptance: This is the stage where you finally realize this is real and it is time to get help. “This isn’t normal, I need to get help. I’m going to call my doctor.”
There are many things that new moms can do to cope with these symptoms:
- Set realistic goals and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility. Let your family and friends help you.
- Break large tasks into small ones and set priorities. Do what you can, as you can.
- Find someone to confide in. It’s usually better than being alone and secretive.
- Exercise regularly. Studies have shown regular exercise can regulate your mood.
- Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time.
As a new mom, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to simply relax. Living an overscheduled life can leave you feeling burnt out. This is when the symptoms really start to kick in and take over. The more work you give yourself, the more you are likely to beat yourself up when you can’t get it all done. Being a new mom is hard. You won’t be able to do it all, and you won’t be perfect. Take it day by day; it will get easier.
When left untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer. If you’re feeling depressed after welcoming your new baby, you may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit it. It is important to call your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing any symptoms of postpartum depression.