Women are most vulnerable to depression and anxiety during pregnancy
and the postpartum period. If depression or anxiety is going to surface, it typically happens at this time.
How can you tell if what you're experiencing is normal or if you have postpartum depression (PPD)? There are two main ways to differentiate the Baby Blues from PPD.
First, the Blues are considered to be normal. They don't feel good, but they are mild and transient. Most moms - 50 to 80 percent -- experience some ups and downs, weepiness, vulnerability, forgetfulness, and stress when their babies are born. The Blues should be gone by about two weeks after delivery. If they continue, even if the symptoms are mild, this is now called PPD. Often I'm called by women months after they deliver, asking when their Blues should go away. They have unknowingly been suffering from PPD and could have received relief months earlier. Request professional help if the Blues are stubborn, since the faster you get help, the sooner you'll be enjoying your life. You may also avoid allowing PPD to get a foothold.
PPD is a specialty, so make sure you get in touch with a therapist who specializes in the field. She should be able to give you an individual, practical plan of wellness including sleep, nutrition, and emotional and physical support so you can feel like yourself again. There are natural treatments that are often quite effective, so medication may or may not be required. It depends on the individual woman and what she specifically needs.
Second, if the symptoms are severe enough to get in the way of normal functioning, even if they occur during the first two weeks postpartum, it is considered to be PPD. So, if you're experiencing symptoms such as a loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping at night when the baby sleeps, hopelessness, poor concentration, anxiety, anger, deep sadness, low self esteem, overwhelm, or lack of energy (that rest doesn't take care of), don't wait. Get help right away.
PPD is one of six postpartum mood disorders and is the most common, affecting about 15 percent of mothers (around 1 in 7) around the world. The primary cause for PPD is thought to be the huge hormonal drop after the baby is delivered. This hormone shift then affects the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). There are also psychosocial factors such as moving, illness, poor partner support, financial hardship, and social isolation that can negatively affect the woman's emotional state. Sleep deprivation and lack of proper nutrients in the brain will also contribute (or cause) the PPD. If you'd like nutrition or sleep suggestions (yes, even if you're breastfeeding), feel free to contact me or take a look at the sleep and nutrition sections in Postpartum Depression For Dummies.
It is extremely important to treat PPD, because if it goes untreated, the symptoms may become chronic. Twenty five percent of mothers untreated for PPD remain depressed after one year. There are many important reasons why a new mother with PPD should receive help as soon as possible. If she remains untreated, there is an increased risk of her child(ren) developing psychiatric disturbances, an increased risk for the woman to develop chronic depression or relapse, and there is a negative impact on the marriage and on all the family relationships.
Most importantly, you deserve to be happy! Get whatever help you need. Remember, very mother needs support, so even if you feel you don't need professional help at the moment, make sure you're in a supportive, non-judgmental new mom's group and you're surrounding yourself with friends and others you can be "real" with.