When is it more than the baby blues?
Bringing a new baby into the world is expected to bring feelings of joy and excitement, but for about 70% of new moms, it also brings less positive feelings referred to as the baby blues. Baby blues can progress to something more severe – postpartum depression. This illness is treatable, but it is important to learn how to recognize the signs.
Symptoms of the baby blues include:
- Excessive crying
- Mood swings and emotional highs and lows
- Increased anxiety or depression
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased tiredness
- Difficulty with sleep patterns, excessive sleepiness or difficulty sleeping
Contributing causes of the baby blues can be the hormonal changes that come after delivery, the stress of pregnancy and childbirth, or the social isolation and routine changes that come with a newborn. Most often, baby blues symptoms decrease and transition back to normal within the first two weeks of giving birth. However, for up to 20% of new mothers, their symptoms become worse, and they experience postpartum depression.
What is postpartum depression?
When symptoms of the baby blues are severe during the first two weeks after the baby’s birth, or become worse after two weeks, a new mother may be experiencing postpartum depression, a serious, but treatable illness. Some new mothers may even experience postpartum depression severe enough to interfere with their ability to bond with, or care for, their newborn. In extreme cases, self-harm, suicide or causing harm to the baby are possible risks. Postpartum depression can vary from mild to severe, and if you are concerned about it, you should seek medical care promptly.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Any symptom of the baby blues that is severe, or lasts more than two weeks after birth
- Extreme anxiety, worry or fears that interfere with normal functioning
- Extreme difficulty focusing
- Extreme changes in sleep patterns
- Unusual changes in weight or appetite
- Frightening thoughts about the baby or yourself
- Any symptom of postpartum depression that appears during pregnancy
Any new mother can be affected by postpartum depression, but a personal or family history of depression or anxiety, lack of support or social interaction, life stressors like marriage or financial issues, smoking, or hormone imbalances can increase a woman’s likelihood of needing treatment.
Symptoms may appear before baby arrives
It is possible for some women to experience symptoms before the delivery of their baby. For this reason, postpartum depression is increasingly referred to as peripartum depression. Pregnant women should be be mindful of the symptoms and seek help if they appear.
Prompt medical attention is essential
It is important to realize postpartum depression is an illness, and not a reflection of a woman’s character or ability to be a good mother. Postpartum, or peripartum depression, can be dangerous for both mother and baby, so seeking medical advice quickly is critical.
A treatable illness
Because postpartum depression is usually treatable, women who seek a doctor’s care are typically able to move forward and experience the beauty and joy of motherhood. Successful treatment may come in the form of counseling or psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, social support and/or medication. In addition to medical treatment, loved ones can help by taking symptoms seriously, offering support to reduce stress and anxiety, and encouraging treatment by a medical professional. If postpartum depression is a concern, avoid leaving the new mother alone, and if you live elsewhere, check in on her often.
A Women’s View offers counseling services for women dealing with symptoms of postpartum depression. Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has free, confidential, specialized support for women suffering postpartum depression symptoms. They can be reached by dialing 988, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their website includes links to maternal mental health resources.