Recognizing Postpartum Depression

The days, weeks, and months after having a baby can be stressful. Is baby eating enough? Is she sleeping enough? WHY WON'T HE SLEEP?? Many new mothers have another fear: what happens if she develops postpartum depression?

Perceived mental illness of any kind has been a stigma in our society. But why? up to 85% of women have some form of postpartum mood disorder in the year after having a baby. In addition to this, around 400,000 babies are born each year to mothers already diagnosed with depression. So really, why is postpartum mood health still viewed often as a taboo topic? Why don't we talk about how common it is to go through these mood changes after having a baby? Women need to understand that mood disorders are not a sign of weakness. They are not defects. They are common and completely treatable. But in order to be treated, they have to be recognized. 

If someone mentions a mood issue after having a baby, many people automatically think of Postpartum Depression. In reality, perinatal mood disorders encompass a much wider variety of symptoms than only depression. Perinatal and postpartum mood disorders include baby blues, postpartum depression,  postpartum anxiety, postpartum psychosis, and postpartum OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). The two most common forms of postpartum mood issues are the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression. 

Baby Blues

Postpartum blues, commonly known as the "baby Blues" is the most common form of postpartum mood disorder. This is a mood of feeling sad or down which can be caused by the postpartum hormone fluctuations, and it can affect as many as 80% of new mothers. Symptoms of the baby blues often begin soon after the birth and resolve within the first two weeks. Baby blues are temporary and do not interfere with your ability to function during daily life.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Randomly crying for seemingly no reason

  • Mood swings 

  • Feeling irritable and/or anxious

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Decreased appetite

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Difficulty concentrating

Risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of depression

  • Feeling stressed out about caring for a baby

  • History of PMS

 

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression affects somewhere between 1 out of every 7 or 1 out of every 10 new mothers, depending on which study you are referencing. This mood issue often starts within the first four months after delivery, although symptoms can first appear up to a year after the birth. Affecting about 10-15% of new mothers, postpartum depression usually develops within the first 4 months after delivery but can occur up to a year later. Unlike baby blues, postpartum depression can interfere with the mother's daily life and her ability to care for the baby. Professional support and treatment is very important as postpartum depression may not go away on its own, and symptoms can increase in severity.  

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Feelings sad, guilty, anxious, overwhelmed, hopeless

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Loss of appetite 

  • Loss of interest in what had been your favorite activities

  • Withdrawing from family and friends; feeling alone

  • Lack of interest in baby

  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby

  • Severe mood swings

  • Feeling not like yourself

  • Unusual or bizarre behavior

Risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of depression

  • History of abuse

  • Recent stress

  • Complications or trauma during pregnancy and/or birth

  • Lack of support

  • Stress due to returning to work quickly

 

What are some things you can do?

So far, nothing has shown to be completely effective in preventing postpartum mood disorders. Some research and anecdotal evidence has shown that ingesting your placenta postpartum by placenta encapsulation may help some people, but again the actual research evidence is very limited or almost nonexistent. It should also be noted that placenta encapsulation is not meant to prevent or treat any medical issue, and medical treatment can be needed for mood disorders. 

 

If your family has hired a postpartum doula, your doula is trained to help look for potential signs and to encourage you to speak to your medical provider. Doulas are not medical professionals, but they do know what to look for and can start that conversation.

 

Family and friends can be very important during this time. Your partner or friends may notice behavior changes that you may have not even realized were happening. If they point out changes, please take them seriously.

 

The Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale is a self-assessment tool that you can use. It asks different questions about the ways you have felt in the last week. It has a score list that helps explain your risk of developing postpartum depression, and your care provider can help you understand your results. If you wish to use this tool, print it here or use this online version

 

Overall, please understand that there is no shame in seeking help. Mood problems should not be stigmatized the way they have been, and treatment is readily available if sought. If you need local resources, please contact us so that we can send our resource list