National Depression Screening Day was last week, so let’s talk about a crucial issue: mental health and childbirth. Did you know postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common medical issue associated with pregnancy? Although it is highly treatable, PPD is a complex condition that is often unrecognized, in part related to the stigma surrounding all mood disorders and especially postpartum mood disorders. Postpartum depression and other significant mood disorders affect roughly 15%-20% of mothers. The hormone changes that occur during and after pregnancy can affect a mother’s mind and mood. Add to that exhaustion, pain, worry and the flood of emotions involved in motherhood, and it’s easy to understand why postpartum depression is a frequent occurrence.
Most women experience a change in mood a few days after giving birth, referred to as “Baby Blues,” which can last for up to two weeks. What makes postpartum depression different is the degree to which this change in mood affects your life, and how long this altered behavior lasts. We all have quirks; we all have fears, tears and tiredness. But with depression, it has gone beyond “bad days” into something more serious that can and should be treated.
There are some things all mothers and their loved ones should know about PPD:
- Postpartum depression is common – in fact, it is the most common complication of childbirth! Too often PPD is not reported and women do not receive the help they need and deserve.
- Approximately 50% of partners of a woman with PPD also develop a mood disorder.
- Treatment is available and recovery is likely with help.
- Your feelings are real and need to be taken seriously. If you share your symptoms with someone who does not take them seriously, tell someone else and find a professional who will give you the treatment you need and deserve.
- You can still love and take care of your baby even if you don’t feel “happy.”
- You are not a danger to your child simply because you are experiencing mood changes, but it is important to talk with your doctor immediately about your feelings to help you take care of yourself and your baby. The longer symptoms go untreated, the worse they can become.
- PPD can range from mild to moderate or severe. A number of factors can contribute to how deeply the illness affects you.
- You do not need to experience all of the symptoms to be at risk for PPD. It is always better to talk with a physician about your concerns than go without care.
- Women with preexisting mental health disorders are often at a higher risk of PPD, but any woman can develop symptoms.
- Postpartum depression is not the only disorder a mom might experience. Postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum psychosis are also conditions that some women face after birth.
- There is growing evidence some women may begin experiencing PPD symptoms while they are still pregnant or symptoms may be delayed until sometime within the first year after giving birth.
Know the signs
The National Institute of Mental Health lists these common symptoms that a woman with postpartum depression may experience:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty or overwhelmed
- Crying more often than 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
- Suffering from physical aches and pains, including frequent headaches, stomach problems and muscle pain
- Eating too little or too much
- Withdrawing from or avoiding friends and family
- Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with her baby
- Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby
- Thinking about harming herself or her baby
If you experience some or many of these symptoms, it is always wise to talk with your physician to assess your condition, and when indicated, develop a treatment plan. Seeking help is a sign of strength and will help you, your baby and your entire family.
Clinically reviewed by Rebecca Mischel, MD, Northwest Newborn Specialists, P.C.