Every mom wonders from time to time…is what I’m feeling “normal?”
Having a new baby brings so many changes on so many levels. It’s absolutely normal to experience a wide range of emotions and feelings.
But maybe the feelings are overwhelmingly intense and they don’t go away. Or maybe this mom thing doesn’t at all feel like what you were expecting. Incredibly, 1 in 9 moms suffers from some degree of postpartum depression. You are not alone! And take heart, there is help!
Read on to find out if your experience is more characteristic of the baby blues, or if you’re likely suffering from actual postpartum depression…and what to do about it!
In This Article
- Bringing Postpartum Depression Into the Light
- The Baby Blues
- Postpartum Depression
- So What Should You Do?
About the Author
This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.
September Trent MS, LPC is a licensed professional counselor specializing in eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, and depression treatment. You can schedule an appointment with September for online counseling or in-person at our Springfield, Missouri counseling center.
Bringing Postpartum Depression Into the Light
Discussion of postpartum depression is important for early detection, correct diagnosis, and reduction of stigma.
Studies show that 1 in 9 women experience postpartum depression (Office on Women’s Health [OWH], 2018).
More awareness about postpartum depression has resulted from recent education campaigns and celebrities, such as Chrissy Teigen and Brooke Shields sharing their experiences with the disorder.
However, many cases of postpartum depression go undiagnosed or moms do not seek help for their symptoms.
Confusion abounds around what is normal “baby blues” symptoms after giving birth and what constitutes postpartum depression. The following are differences between the “baby blues” and postpartum depression with a couple vignettes to help illustrate each.
What baby blues looks and feels like:
It is very likely you have heard the term “baby blues” from one of the many pregnancy books you read or a friend who recently had a baby.
The following are symptoms of the baby blues and happen within days of giving birth (OWH, 2018):
- Mood swings
- Experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, or being overwhelmed
- Crying spells
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
These symptoms should go away within 3 to 5 days, but if they last longer than 2 weeks you may be experiencing postpartum depression (OWH, 2018). Some professionals suggest these types of symptoms are actually a functional response of one of the biggest life changes you will experience (Rosenquist, 2010).
Jen recently gave birth to her son Judah. She had a normal delivery and chose to breast feed her son. She would admit that she experienced stress with the breast feeding process, but felt confident upon discharge from the hospital.
While being discharged from the hospital, she felt positive about taking Judah home and caring for him with her husband. After a day of being home and caring for her son, Jen noticed feeling sadness when changing her son’s diaper and even when she was trying to sleep. When night came around, Jen noticed feelings of anxiousness.
Jen’s husband noticed Jen being optimistic and joyful about being a mother and this would change to crying spells of feeling overwhelmed. Jen also complained of difficulty falling asleep when her son was sleeping.
After discussing how Jen was feeling about taking care of Judah, Jen and her husband decided keep an eye on Jen’s emotional health and contact her doctor if symptoms persist. A week after this conversation, Jen and husband noticed a reduction in Jen’s report of feelings of sadness, overwhelm, and anxiety. They both noticed Jen was sleeping better and had not experienced a crying spell.
What causes the baby blues? It is a combination of changes that occur after giving birth: hormone decrease, breast engorgement, and the transition from hospital to home (Kleiman & Davis Raskin, 2013).
While the changing levels of estrogens, progesterone, cortisol, and prolactin are usually cited as the changing hormones that cause the baby blues, at least one research study suggests that your personal sensitivity to these hormones may impact whether you experience the baby blues (Kleiman & Davis Raskin, 2013).
Perhaps the previous section on the baby blues sounded a little too hopeful or optimistic. A little too easy. Then perhaps you’re experiencing postpartum depression.
What postpartum depression looks and feels like:
One main difference between the “baby blues” and postpartum depression is the symptoms of postpartum depression have a longer duration and are more severe (OWH, 2018). These symptoms can develop from one month after giving birth to up to a year after giving birth. (OWH, 2018).
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
- Moodiness or irritability
- Crying spells
- Experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Not feeling a connection with your baby or feeling your baby belongs to someone else
- Absence of energy or motivation
- Change in appetite (increase or reduction)
- Change in sleeping patterns (increase or decrease)
- Difficulty making decisions or concentrating
- Forgetting things easily
- Feeling you are a bad mom
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Isolating yourself
- Experiencing headaches, pains, or stomach issues that do not go away
Emily and her husband were so excited when they found out they were expecting. During her pregnancy, Emily and her husband made sure to take all the prenatal classes she could through the hospital where she would be delivering. Emily also read many parenting books. She had the nursery ready months in advance, just in case the baby came early.
Emily would describe herself as anxiously awaiting her daughter’s arrival, but felt prepared for the experience. After Emily’s daughter was born, she felt she was handling the stress of having a new baby and the night time feedings well. While Emily would describe herself as exhausted, both herself and her husband felt comfortable as new parents.
While the adjustment period went well at first…
It was Emily’s husband who noticed the changes in Emily first. He noticed Emily had times where she couldn’t stop crying. A few times Emily stated she was a “bad mom” because didn’t feel like holding her daughter.
Emily noticed she was having no energy during the day, difficulty sleeping even when her daughter was asleep for the night, and difficulty making simple decisions, like what to cook for dinner.
Instead of making plans with friends, Emily chose to stay at home most days. She would describe herself as worthless and not able to shake the feeling of sadness. Emily knew she did not feel like herself, but she did not want anyone to know she wasn’t in love with motherhood.
When Emily’s husband noticed these changes lasting for more than a month, he decided to have a conversation with Emily. It was difficult for Emily to hear the changes her husband noticed in her, but he suggested talking with her doctor about these changes. He even suggested going with her to the appointment.
After a few days, Emily reluctantly agreed to talk with her doctor about what she was experiencing. To her surprise, Emily was diagnosed with postpartum depression after her doctor talked with her and gave Emily a postpartum depression screening. Emily thought she would feel discouraged, but actually she felt relieved to have a name to what she was experiencing.
Important Vignette Takeaways:
In this example, there are a few key things to notice. Emily experienced postpartum depression symptoms three months after giving birth. Symptoms for postpartum depression can occur anywhere from one month to up to a year after giving birth.
Also, Emily experienced many symptoms in the above list, not just a few. She experienced those symptoms for longer than two weeks. Her husband noticed changes in her, even some she did not notice about herself.
The above vignette is only an example of how postpartum depression presents itself. Others’ experiences with postpartum depression may look different than this.
If the above sounds like you…
Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks!
Experiencing one symptom does not necessarily mean you are experiencing postpartum depression, but it would be helpful to have your doctor assess the situation.
It is very common for moms who have just given birth not to discuss these symptoms due to shame, guilt, or stigma.
You are not a bad mom for experiencing these symptoms. Let’s repeat this: You are not a bad mom for experiencing these symptoms! The most helpful thing you can do is talk about these symptoms and take care of yourself.
Postpartum depression is very treatable. Discussing your concerns with your doctor is the first step to feeling more like yourself. After the discussion with your doctor, he or she may prescribe a medication and refer you to a counselor for therapy.
What causes postpartum depression? In Karen Kleiman and Valerie Davis Ruskin’s book titled This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression, they state many factors contributing to the development of postpartum depression:
- chronic sleep deprivation and fatigue
- colicky, hard-to-care for babies
- dramatic hormonal changes
- medical complications in either mother or infant
- a predisposition to self-criticism
- previous postpartum or other types of clinical depression
- absence of support from family or friends
- isolation ( 2013, pp. 7).
It is also suggested in this book to be cautious about attributing postpartum depression to hormones due to lack of “scientifically sound” research (Kleinman & Davis Ruskin, pp. 7, 2013). It interesting to note adoptive mothers also experience postpartum depression, as do 10% of fathers (Kleinman & Davis Ruskin, 2013).
So What Should You Do?
Again, it is important if you are struggling with symptoms listed above talk to a professional rather than diagnosing yourself. Even if you do not meet the diagnosis for postpartum depression, your doctor may have resources to help with your transition to having a new baby.
At MyCounselor.Online, we can help with the therapy aspect of treatment for postpartum depression. We have therapists who know how to help!
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- Kleiman, K. R., & Davis Raskin, V. (2013). This isn’t what I expected: overcoming postpartum depression. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
- Office on Women’s Health. (2018). Postpartum depression. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/postpartum-depression
- Rosenquist, S. (2010). After the Stork: the couple’s guide to preventing and overcoming postpartum depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publication, Inc.
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