You’ve waited nine months to enjoy this happy scene—sitting in a rocking chair, gazing lovingly at your newborn. But for many new moms, these moments quickly swing to uncontrollable crying jags. Instead of bliss, they feel sad, anxious and overwhelmed. As many as 80 percent of women have these feelings after giving birth, a condition known as the baby blues. It’s a normal response to the hormonal changes and stress that come with having a baby. Symptoms begin about three to four days after delivery and disappear within a couple weeks.
For about one in 10 women, however, the symptoms persist or worsen, developing into postpartum depression (PPD). More than the baby blues, PPD is a medical illness, and like other forms of depression, a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Although PPD usually surfaces shortly after delivery, the symptoms may appear during pregnancy or build gradually, even up to a year after giving birth. The illness is triggered by a hormonal shift—estrogen and progesterone levels increase tenfold during pregnancy but drop sharply after delivery—as well as the social and psychological changes that occur in a woman’s life when she has a baby. Many women feel a sense of loss—for their former identity, their body and their work and social life. At the same time, they may feel overwhelmed by added responsibilities.
Postpartum depression often appears as a mix of emotional, physical and behavioral symptoms, which include:
- increased crying and irritability
- feelings of hopelessness, sadness and depression
- uncontrollable mood swings
- feeling unable to cope
- fear of harming your baby, your partner or yourself
- fear of being alone
- lack of interest in or over-concern for your child
- poor self-care
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities, friends and family
- appetite or sleep disturbances unrelated to infant care
- confusion, inability to make decisions
- fatigue and sluggishness
- headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, hyperventilation
Women with PPD love their children but may be convinced they’re bad mothers. If you suffer PPD symptoms, talk with your doctor. He or she can offer you effective treatments, which include medication such as antidepressants and counseling. Some antidepressants are safe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
PPD hurts not only new mothers but their babies and families as well. Research suggests a link between maternal depression and babies’ language delays; lower activity levels; distress; and behavior, sleep and emotional-bonding problems. Untreated depression can impair your ability to make decisions, fulfill your child’s need for love and attention and enjoy your newborn and your life. PPD isn’t a weakness or something you can snap out of; it’s an illness that calls for your doctor’s help. Seeking treatment is the first step toward enjoying those happy moments you’ve always dreamed about having with your baby.