For many people, the experience of having a baby is a wonderfully happy time. To prepare, soon-to-be moms read books and mommy blogs about what to expect and how to manage their new arrival. Many women are excited about their role as a new mom and want to try to be the “perfect” parent.
One thing that a lot of women are not prepared for is the mood fluctuations that can be experienced after giving birth. The hormonal changes that occur following labor and delivery may cause mild mood changes commonly known as the baby blues. However, persistent, negative changes in one’s mood may be a sign of postpartum depression (PPD). Fortunately, these commonly identified complications related to childbearing are highly treatable.
The baby blues is a common reaction to childbirth that 50-80% of new moms experience. It is characterized by acute sleep deprivation, feeling mildly overwhelmed, uncertain, and weepy in the first two weeks following childbirth. This cluster of symptoms is due to hormonal and emotional fluctuations that emerge following delivery. Generally, symptoms peak 3-5 days after delivery and resolve on their own around two weeks post-delivery. This time frame might extend slightly for mothers who experienced a C-section.
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect up to 13% of women after childbirth through the first year postpartum. PPD does not have a single cause, but likely results from a combination of factors. Some of the more common symptoms include:
Unfortunately, PPD is often underdiagnosed and undertreated because of stigma and because many of the symptoms of PPD are similar to “new parenthood” (fatigue, difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, etc.) Postpartum depression will not go away without intervention.
In rare cases, just 1-2 out of every 1,000 births, a woman may develop postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis generally presents within 3 weeks after delivery. It is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, confusion/disorientation, and disorganization in thinking and behavior. Postpartum psychosis will not resolve without intervention and requires immediate evaluation and medication management.
Women may experience the baby blues and/or depression differently with each pregnancy, if at all. If you had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy, you may be at higher risk of developing PPD again.
If you experience any of the symptoms of the baby blues, PPD or postpartum psychosis, it’s important for you to talk to your OB/GYN or primary care provider about how you’re feeling. They can assess your symptoms, determine if you need medication, and refer you to therapy if necessary.
Having a baby, and in particular, having your first baby involves some significant changes to your body and your lifestyle. Go easy on yourself. Here are some strategies that may help new moms:
Atrius Health providers have the ability to consult with specially trained doctors to determine safe and effective medications to use to reduce symptoms—even if you are breastfeeding. Many of the behavioral health staff at Atrius Health have been trained in treating postpartum depression through various types of therapy. Our therapists can work with you to refer you to support groups and resources in your area so that you can feel heard and supported every step of the way.
Learn more about postpartum depression:
National Women’s Health Information Center: http://www.womenshealth.gov/
Parental Stress Line: http://www.parentshelpingparents.org/ phone: 800-632-8188
Online PPD Support group: http://www.ppdsupportpage.com/
Postpartum Progress blog: http://postpartumprogress.com/