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Depressed After Having Your Baby

Updated on March 31, 2010

Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

Your beautiful baby was born just a week ago. You thought this new little life would bring new life to you—isn't  that why babies are referred to as "bundles of joy?" But you haven't felt much of anything resembling joy since  the birth, only moodiness, sadness, fatigue, and guilt. Some days it takes nearly all your strength just to do a few chores around the house. You feel like a bad mother, and you just want your old self back. Do you just have the blues or is this postpartum depression? Most important, what can you do to feel better? 

First of all, take heart—you have lots of company. You need time to adjust to a major life change. Being pregnant isn't always easy, and taking care of an infant is hard work! Feeling sad, overwhelmed, anxious, or angry is perfectly normal for new mothers, but sometimes these feelings become strong and make life difficult.

The majority of new mothers experience some form of the “baby blues.” True postpartum depression, on the other hand, is more intense and lasts longer. Approximately 10% to 15% of new mothers (1 in 8) experience this condition. 

In less frequent cases, women may experience other postpartum emotional disorders, such as postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, postpartum anxiety or panic disorder, and in rare cases, postpartum psychosis.

Baby Blues

The baby blues usually occur during the first week after birth and are characterized by the following: 

  Sadness, feeling let down 

  Weepiness (often for no apparent reason) 

  Confusion 

  Fatigue 

  Irritability 

  Anxiety and restlessness

The ability to function is not consistently affected. Symptoms go away within a few days to two weeks; treatment  is not usually necessary.


Postpartum Depression

Symptoms of postpartum depression appear within four weeks of giving birth and include the following: 

  Sadness, depression, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness 

  Difficulty falling or staying asleep, even when the baby sleeps 

  Appetite disturbances (eating excessively or too little)    Irritability, physical agitation 

  Fatigue, decreased energy 

  Difficulty concentrating, confusion, and memory loss 

  Uncontrollable crying 

  Fear of harming yourself or your baby 

  Thoughts of death or suicidal ideation 

  Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in activities 

  Lack of interest in the baby 

  Excessive worry about the baby 

  Guilt and low self-esteem 

  Anxiety and/or panic 

  Exaggerated mood swings, highs and/or lows 

  Inability to cope with every situation

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, persisting for months to over a year. Postpartum depression may be experienced differently among women, but the symptoms are always distressing and need to be treated.


Causes of Postpartum Depression

Hormones

Researchers have suggested that postpartum mood disorders may be initiated by rapidly decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone following delivery. Current research is also looking at a relationship between prolactin and postpartum depression. Researchers also believe that there maybe a relationship between cortisol levels and postpartum depression. 


Stress

Any major life change can produce enough stress to cause depression in some women. Now you have the tremendous responsibility of caring for an infant, and all that may come with it: exhaustion, sleep deprivation, colic, juggling family and job responsibilities, and social isolation. This can make you feel frustrated, overwhelmed and inadequate, leading to depression.

Risk Factors 

  A history of postpartum depression or other mood disorder 

  Depression or anxiety during pregnancy 

  Marital problems 

  Stress, major life changes, and/or negative life events 

  Not having much social support 

  A history of severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)


Treatment

The good news is that postpartum depression, whether mild or severe, is treatable and temporary. The treatment prescribed varies according to the type and severity of symptoms. It's essential that you be evaluated by a therapist and physician who has experience in diagnosing postpartum depression. Ideally, you should also have a medical evaluation to eliminate physiological causes of depression, such as thyroid problems.

Treatment may include individual or family counseling, as well as participation in a support group.

Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed, depending upon symptoms, side effects, and whether or not you are breastfeeding.

Taking Care of Yourself

The following tips can help you adjust to motherhood and reduce your chances of emotional difficulties after birth: 

  If you are currently pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, learn as much as possible about

the responsibilities of motherhood. 

  Make sleep and rest a priority. Ask not to be disturbed and take a nap. Don't take on unimportant

tasks. Relax your standards and don't expect the house to look perfect. 

  Ask for help from your spouse, partner, family, and friends. This is a time when you especially

need social support. 

  Make sure your diet is well-balanced and nutritious. Take a multivitamin and ask your doctor or

dietitian about additional vitamin and iron supplements. 

  Since you are giving so much of yourself to your newborn baby, you need extra emotional

support. Ask your loved ones for daily reassurances and hugs. 

  It's not the best time for you to be caring for relatives and friends. Take care of yourself. 

  Avoid making major life changes for a while, such as moving or starting a new career. 

  Be sure to stay connected with your friends and colleagues. 

  Make sure you take time for yourself. 

  Discuss your feelings and worries with your partner. 

  Develop your sense of humor. Take time to watch funny movies, laugh with friends, and to see the

humor in daily situations. 

  Get some daily exercise. It can get or keep you in shape, boost your mood, increase your energy

levels, and relieve stress.

It's Not Forever!

Take comfort in knowing that postpartum depression is temporary and can be treated. There are a number of resources available that can help, so be sure to check your library and do research online.

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