It’s common to experience the Baby Blues after giving birth—a brief period of adjustment when you feel down and weepy and moody. In fact, up to 80% of women experience these blues. But if they linger longer than two weeks, feel intense or overwhelming, or interfere with your functioning or ability to care for or bond with your baby, you may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).
About 15% of women experience PPD, which is diagnosed anytime within 12 months of giving birth. PPD can become serious, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms most of the time for longer than two consecutive weeks:
- Extreme sadness
- Crying all the time
- Constant worrying about your baby
- Trouble sleeping even though you’re exhausted
- Intense mood swings, including anger
- Having no appetite or eating constantly, resulting in unintentional weight loss or gain
- Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling disinterested in your baby, having trouble bonding with your baby, or having trouble caring for your baby
- Having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
What Causes PPD?
PPD is thought to be caused by one or a combination of the following: Hormonal changes, emotional adjustment, physical exhaustion, or genetics.
Women may not seek treatment for PPD because they feel ashamed, but it isn’t caused by anything you did or didn’t do. Remember, too, that it can happen to anyone! In recent years several celebrities have spoken out about their experiences with it, which has helped reduce stigma around PPD.
Risk Factors for PPD
These risk factors may increase your likelihood of developing PPD. Keep in mind that they are not always correlated with it, though. Women can have none of these risk factors and still experience PDD, or have many of them and never experience PPD.
- A personal or family history of depression or anxiety
- A baby born with developmental or medical problems
- A baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
- Having multiples (twins or triplets, etc.)
- Being a single parent
- Financial instability
- Major life changes around the time of giving birth (loss, moving, etc.)
- Breastfeeding problems
- Lack of social support
- An unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
What are the Treatments for PPD?
PPD is well-studied, and treatments such as counseling, support groups, medication or a combination of these are well-established.
You may wonder if antidepressant medications are safe if you’re breastfeeding. Be sure to talk to your doctor about it, but studies have shown that medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are safe for breastfeeding moms.
What Else Can I Do to Cope?
Aside from seeking treatment, these may help you feel better:
Recruit helpers. Call in the troops. Ask family members and friends to stop by regularly. They can help with chores or the baby, listen if you feel like talking, or simply be there so you don’t feel alone. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help; the truth is people like to feel needed!
Move your body. Research shows that exercise creates mood-boosting chemical reactions in the brain. Try taking your baby out for a brisk walk in the stroller, or going for a quick jog while your partner or a friend stays with your baby.
Fill up on nutrients. Studies link eating too much processed food with depression. Keeping whole, nutrient-dense foods handy can help you fill up on the good stuff (think apple slices and peanut butter or carrot sticks and hummus). You can find more information about postpartum nutrition here.
Change your scenery. Sometimes just physically going to a different place can shift our mood. Try taking your baby into a different room to play, or outside for some fresh air. A quick walk around the block while a helper watches your baby can also do the trick.
Give yourself a break. Literally and figuratively! On the literal side, try to get out every now and then on your own. This is hard if your baby is brand-new, but even meeting a friend for a cup of tea can help you feel refreshed. Figuratively speaking, PPD can stir up lousy feelings that squash your self-esteem. Remember that dealing with PPD is not your fault, and that many other women are going through the same thing right now. You would be kind to them, right? Be kind to yourself, too.
Be patient. After seeking treatment, feeling better usually happens gradually. Take it one day at a time and do the best you can.
For more information about PPD, including resources and links to helpful articles, take a look at this award-winning website.