by Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD
For months you’ve been anticipating the joy of your baby’s birth.
Now that that tiny new life lies in your arms, you feel anything but joy. There is a pervasive sadness, resentment, fear, anger, sleeplessness, confusion, and guilt that you are feeling so negatively when everyone expects you to be happy.
Postpartum depression is a particularly debilitating condition that strikes when you most need all of your abilities to manage the addition to your family. Yet it’s more common than is generally believed – a survey by the Center for Disease Control found that as many as one in five new mothers suffers from postpartum depression.
Not surprisingly, some studies indicate a higher risk for PPD in teen mothers, high school dropouts, smokers ,women with a history of abuse, those with money problems, and mothers whose baby had physical problems at birth.Yet Postpartum Depression can impact any woman even under the best of circumstances.
There are three levels of associated with postpartum emotions:
- The baby blues affect the highest number of new mothers, an estimated 70 to 80 percent. The blues bring relatively mild symptoms – mood swings, anxiety, crying without reason – that generally pass on their own after a couple of weeks.
- Postpartum depression (PPD) is an extended and much more intense version of the blues. Women struggling with this level are sad, moody, anxious, and fearful, but they may also suffer the more worrisome symptoms of extreme guilt and hopelessness regarding their mothering abilities, hostility toward the new baby, panic attacks (rapid heartbeat, nausea, debilitating fear, the sensation of choking), lost sex drive, and extreme fatigue.New Moms struggling with PPD may also feel indifferent towards their baby and have thoughts of wishing their newborn would just go away.Previous bouts of depression make it more likely that a woman will suffer postpartum depression.
- Postpartum psychosis is thankfully rare, affecting about 1 mother in a thousand. It’s most likely to strike women who already suffer from bipolar disorder or other mental disorders. Postpartum psychosis symptoms include hyperactivity, paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. It can also lead to thoughts of self-harm or hurting the new baby. This condition should be taken very seriously and may require medication and hospitalization.
If these descriptions sound like what you’re going through and you’re not feeling better after a couple of weeks, it’s wise to visit your doctor and explain what you’re experiencing. There’s no reason to be ashamed or to hesitate to seek help. One of the causes of PPD is the extreme shift in hormones that follow birth; you have no control over these shifts. Untreated PPD can linger for months or even years and can cause lasting harm if you aren’t able to bond with your baby.
If your doctor suspects you may be suffering from PPD, she will likely refer you to a therapist. Talk therapy with a therapist experienced in PPD can bring great relief and help you feel like yourself again.
If you seem stuck in your depression, you may also be prescribed an antidepressant to supplement the therapy. Let your prescribing doctor know if you are breastfeeding, as some medications are less likely to be passed through breast milk. Some physicians prescribe estrogen replacement therapy, although there’s not a lot of research on the effectiveness of this treatment.
You can also take steps to help yourself to feel better:
- Accept all the help that’s offered. Family and friends are probably eager to visit and hold the baby; put them to work in whatever way is helpful to you.
- Sleep whenever your baby sleeps. Just getting a good nap can greatly improve your mood.
- Join with other new mothers to share experiences and tips, and even exchange childcare.
- Hire a babysitter so you can count on a break.
- Take good care of yourself – eat well, exercise regularly, avoid alcohol.
- Ease up on your expectations; let the dishes and the dirty clothes go or ask for help with daily chores.
And most importantly, don’t blame yourself for how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking.Remind yourself that this is temporary and that you can and will feel better.
BARBARA FANE, LCSW, BCD
THERAPY and COUNSELING SERVICES