Postpartum depression is a topic that no one seems to want to talk about, but it needs to be discussed more often. More and more women are suffering from postpartum depression, and they feel ashamed of their diagnosis. I’m here to tell you that you should never feel ashamed, and surviving postpartum depression takes time.
I always assumed I would be “safe” from postpartum depression. I didn’t have a history of any mental health issues, and I had a stable family support system to help me. After I had my first child, I quickly learned that none of that matter, and I developed postpartum depression.
I felt ashamed. What was wrong with me? Why was I depressed when I just had a beautiful baby? So, I asked my doctor for medication and hid my troubles from my family and friends.
Fast forward a few years, and postpartum anxiety ruled my life after my most recent child. Age doesn’t exempt you nor does experience in parenting.
Everyone is vulnerable, and no matter who you are, you might end up with postpartum depression. That’s why awareness is critical, so let’s take a look at everything you need to know.
Before we dive into all of this vital information, you have to understand what is postpartum depression. Postpartum is the time after you give birth to a child. Many women experience baby blues, which means you feel sad after you give birth.
Postpartum depression is a mental illness that involves the brain and affects your behavior and physical health. It’s the feeling of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness for longer than two weeks. These feelings can interfere with your regular life, and you might find it hard to connect with your baby.
Some mothers also experience anxiety disorders during or after pregnancy.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
It’s so important to remember that you aren’t to blame if you have postpartum depression, ever.
Hormonal changes trigger symptoms. We all know that hormones increase when you’re pregnant; that’s why you find yourself weepy at times or perhaps angry. Estrogen and progesterone are two female hormones that are at their highest during pregnancy.
24 hours after childbirth, those hormones quickly drop back to normal, pre-pregnancy levels. Many doctors believe that this rapid change in hormone levels can lead to depression, and it can lead to mood swings.
Even if you don’t have depression, this rapid change can cause you to feel weepy. I remember crying for days because my birth was so beautiful that I cried over it. Once, a handyman at the hospital walked into me, crying hysterically, and I scared him away.
Hormones do crazy things, y’all.
Of course, there is more to blame than just hormones, but they play a significant factor. Your thyroid hormones drop quickly after birth that helps to regulate how your body uses and stores energy from food. Low thyroid hormones can cause symptoms of depression.
Moms who suffer from postpartum depression list other factors that contribute to the development of these feelings, such as:
What Are Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
Standard changes in pregnancy can lead to symptoms that are similar to depression. I remember wondering if what I was feeling was normal. Feeling overwhelmed can be normal; you were just handed a baby! You are naturally tired – giving birth is hard on your body, and babies don’t sleep well.
Here are some feelings and symptoms that might indicate postpartum depression. Always talk to your doctor or midwife to determine if you should be concerned.
How Common is Postpartum Depression?
Women often feel ashamed about their postpartum depression, but the stigma must change. It’s not uncommon for women to experience depression after the birth of their baby. One out of nine mothers is diagnosed with postpartum depression.
That’s a large percentage. If you lined up nine of your mom friends, at least one of them would have experience with this. That means you aren’t alone.
What Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression?
All women are at risk for postpartum depression because we all have the same hormones that rage through our bodies during pregnancy. Everyone is at risk of developing these feelings when those hormone levels drop.
However, some women do have a higher risk factor for developing postpartum depression. Some of those risk factors include:
It’s recommended that doctors look for and ask about symptoms of depression during and after pregnancy. If doctors know that their patient has a higher risk factor, they can pay more attention to ensure their patient is mentally healthy and stable.
The Difference Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
One of the hardest things is figuring out if you have baby blues or postpartum depression. Many of the feelings can be normal, or they are included in baby blues. There is a fine line when it transitions from baby blues to PPD, and some women miss that line. They think what they’re experiencing is normal when it’s not.
Baby blues are typical in the days after childbirth. Remember we talked about those crazy hormones taking a nosedive after you have your baby. If increasing hormones can do wild things to your baby, dramatically dropping hormones can as well.
Common symptoms of baby blues include:
Baby blues don’t last for too long, typically only a week at most. The symptoms of postpartum depression are more prolonged and more severe.
Postpartum depression often starts within the first month after childbirth, but it can begin anytime during pregnancy or for up to a year after birth.
What is Postpartum Psychosis?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the term postpartum psychosis. This term is often used in news stories of mothers who kill their children or themselves. It’s rare, happening in up to 4 out of every 1,000 births. So, try not to stress too much that they’ll develop postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis often starts in the first two weeks after delivering your baby, and it’s considered a medical emergency. Women who have bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder have a higher risk of postpartum psychosis.
Signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:
Can Fathers Have Postpartum Depression?
Believe it or not, dads can get depression too(source), and it affects anywhere from 2-25% of men. It starts during their partner’s pregnancy or in the first year od postpartum. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that this rate can increase to 50% of men if their partner has perinatal or postpartum depression.
Dads may not show the same signs of depression as females, but here are some to watch for:
Unlike women and the cause being hormones, men struggle with the new demands and responsibilities that they face during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Some risk factors can affect the development of depression in fathers, such as:
When to See a Doctor about Postpartum Depression?
Treatment options are available for women who have postpartum depression. It’s easier treated when caught early.
You should call your doctor or midwife if you experience these problems:
What Potential Complications if Left Untreated?
Are you thinking, “O.K., but what’s the worse that’s going to happen if my postpartum depression is left untreated?” I think the same way about some medical problems as well, but that’s not a healthy thought process. Postpartum depression IS treatable.
Not treating your postpartum depression can affect your ability to parent and bond with your baby. You might experience some problems, such as:
Over time, these symptoms can get worse, and depression makes you feel like a bad mother. Some researchers believe that untreated postpartum depression can even affect children throughout childhood. According to studies(source), untreated postpartum depression can affect children in multiple ways, such as:
Treatment Options During Postpartum Depression
So, you want to call the doctor, but you’re a bit worried about what your doctor will suggest as treatment options during postpartum depression. That’s understandable!
For the most part, doctors recommend two common types of treatment, which are:
Your doctor might suggest that you see a therapist to talk about your depression. Therapists or psychologists are trained to help you learn strategies to change your depression. These strategies can help you improve how you feel, think, and act. Plus, it’s a great way to unload all of these thoughts and feelings onto someone who can offer constructive ideas back to you.
Many women, myself included, opted to take medication to ease my symptoms of postpartum depression. Most doctors prescribe an antidepressant to help kick those symptoms to the side, and many of them are breastfeeding safe.
It does take a few weeks before you’ll feel a real difference taking an antidepressant.
Recently, the FDA approved a medication called brenxanoline to treat PPD in adult women. It is administered through an IV for 60 hours. However, you have to stay in the office or hospital while receiving this medication, and it’s not safe for breastfeeding.
Moms don’t have to pick one or the other. You can go through therapy while taking medication. All that matters is that you are seeking treatment, which is essential for you and your baby.
Taking medication or going to therapy doesn’t make you a bad mom. It means you care about your health, which directly affects your baby and your family. It’s a sign of strength.
Can Postpartum Depression Be Prevented?
In many cases, postpartum depression cannot be prevented because it hormones related. If you already suffer from a mental health problem, you have a higher risk, but that doesn’t mean you will have postpartum depression for sure.
In other cases, postpartum depression can be prevented. Here are a few things that can help.
11 Tips for Surviving Postpartum Depression
It’s usually recommended that you seek a doctor, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things you can do at home to help with surviving postpartum depression. It’s not a hopeless situation, and remember that you can and will beat this.
1. Bond With Your Baby
Many women report that they have trouble bonding with their babies when they have PPD. Later, they feel as if they lost out on weeks of time with their baby due to the lack of bonding.
Try to spend as much time as possible doing skin-to-skin with your baby. In a 2012 study on the skin to skin contact(source), mothers who spent five hours per day of SSC with their baby during the first week of life and then two hours per day until the baby is a month old had lower scores of depression.
Take this as a reason to spend hours laying with your baby; science shows it helps!
2. Soak in the Vitamin D
Everyone needs vitamin D, but postpartum moms need it in excess. We know that a lack of vitamin D is linked to depression as a whole, and doctors believe there is a link to postpartum depression as well. A lack of vitamin D can interfere with normal cognitive brain function, and it also plays a factor in brain development. Also, it affects the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, which are two hormones linked to depression.
A recent voluntary Chinese study looked at the levels of 213 women 24-48 hours after childbirth(source). Then, these women came back after three months to complete a screening tool to detect who suffered from depression. The results came back that the women with higher levels of vitamin D were less likely to suffer from PPD.
3. Take Time for Yourself
I understand this feeling so well. You were an individual before you had your baby, then your life revolves around the baby. You feel as if you’re losing who you are, and that’s frustrating.
I can’t encourage mothers enough to take time for yourself, and that looks different for everyone. For you, that might mean taking time to get a hot shower and put on some makeup. For someone else, that might mean taking time to read a book. I need to have a cup of coffee or tea each day and time to crochet or read because those are two things that I love.
Don’t forget that you’re more than a mom. You’re an individual with thoughts, feelings, and passions. Don’t lose them when you have a baby.
4. Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet alone won’t solve your PPD, but it can help. Nutritious foods can help you feel better and give your body all the nutrients needed.
It feels easier to eat snack foods, but if you want to make sure you have all of the vitamins needed, then eat a proper diet. Try meal planning!
5. Keep Taking Your Prenatal Vitamins
Most doctors recommend that you take your prenatal vitamins after you have your baby. Taking the vitamins ensures that your body has all of the nutrients needed to stay healthy.
6. Start to Exercise Again
Many doctors believe exercise during and after pregnancy improves psychological wellbeing. It might be a protection against postpartum depression. You can walk with your baby stroller because even low-intensity exercise is linked to a lower risk of depression in new mothers.
7. Reach Out for a Support System
Mom to mom, I can tell you a secret – we aren’t superwoman. Seriously. You can’t do it all. I tried and failed many times over the years and wasted so much precious time trying to be awesome at so much.
If you have a support system, use it often after you have a baby. Sure, you may be able to clean the kitchen, but if your aunt is willing to come over and clean so you can take a nap, accept the offer.
Let me repeat myself – TAKE THE OFFERS.
Pride can be a killer for us sometimes. If you have any offers of help, take them. You can get a shower, take a nap, have a meal delivered, or whatever else matters to you.
8. Try Medication – And Don’t Be Ashamed!
If you need medication, don’t be ashamed. Sometimes, it’s the best way to treat your PPD. The most important thing is that you need to get healthy for you and your baby. If that means taking medication is your best route to being mentally healthy, rock the medication, and don’t be ashamed.
9. Sleep and Nap Often
Women most often note that the lack of sleep is a trigger for their depression. It can be a drastic change. You go from sleeping 7-9 hours per night every night. You feel rested! Then, your baby arrives, and you’re lucky if you get two-hour stretches. Moms often feel dead to the world.
People suggest sleeping when the baby sleeps, but any mother will tell you that it’s not always that simple. Sometimes, you want to use that time to get something important finished. If you have a toddler running around and no other adult home, sleeping with your baby sleeps is flat out dangerous.
Do your best to get at least one nap with your baby. If your baby is sleeping and your partner is home, lay down as well. Even doing so one time a day helps. If you can’t sleep, at least put your feet up in the recliner and binge watch some Netflix shows.
Resist the urge to stay up late at night. I’m guilty of this all the time. I use the nighttime for myself, and that’s not a bad idea if you have older babies and kids who sleep. When your baby goes to sleep for the night, head to bed too.
10. Breastfeeding – It Can Help or Hurt, You Decide
Breastfeeding – It Can Help or Hurt, You Decide
Studies suggest that breastfeeding may reduce your risk of developing PPD, and that’s awesome! Not only are you bonding with your baby, but you’re adding more protection during the fourth trimester. If you’re enjoying breastfeeding, don’t think about stopping.
There are some cases where women develop depression symptoms while breastfeeding. That could be because of the struggles that are taking over her life. Sometime, breastfeeding can be so hard that it feels as if it’s consuming your life. If you reach this point, it might be a good idea to take a step back and decide if breastfeeding is worth your mental health.
11. Get Out and Don’t Be Isolated
Having a baby doesn’t mean that you need to be an isolated hermit. Despite what your great-grandma might tell you, you can take a new baby out of the house. Visit friends and family, with or without your baby. I often gathered up my kids and took them to my parents’ house. I got out of the house and went to a place I felt comfortable, but I still wasn’t isolating myself.
How Can I Help My Friend with Postpartum Depression?
If your friend has postpartum depression, reaching out and helping them is one of the most important things that you can do! Here are some ways to help your friend include:
1. Check on Her Not the Baby
Check on your friend, not her baby. She will tell you if something is wrong with her baby, but she might not tell you what she’s feeling unless you press and ask. Make sure you ask her how she’s doing and let her know that you support her. She can always talk to you.
2. Go With Her to Appointments
Sometimes, women want someone to go with them during appointments. She might need a driver or just some moral support. Always ask her what she needs from you.
3. Bring Her Coffee and Friend Time
Don’t let her forget that you care about her and your friendship. Bring her snacks and coffee, and sit down with her to chat. She’s going to have to take care of the baby, so help her around the house a bit when she does. Wash her dishes, vacuum her floor, and let her know that you don’t mind doing so because you love her.
4. Let Her Sleep
Is your friend telling you how tired she is? Go over to her house and tell her to take a nap. You’ll watch the baby and clean up around the house while she does. We know that lack of sleep is a contributing factor to postpartum depression, and friends are in the position to help their friends get more sleep.
5. Bring Her Some Dinners
Don’t make your friend make dinner every night! Bring her dinner once or twice. You can make dinner or take her some take-out meals. She’ll appreciate not having to cook and a good meal all combined.
Many women suffer from postpartum depression, even if they don’t talk about it. It’s more common than most people realize. Surviving postpartum depression involves seeking help and focusing on taking care of yourself as well as your baby. Reaching out for support is essential.
Don’t let your PPD define you. You are more than your postpartum depression, and this won’t last forever. You will survive this!