By Laura S. Gertz, LPC , Aurora Behavioral Health Center

Expecting a baby? Congratulations!

The weeks and months ahead can be an emotional roller coaster. You’ll experience joy, fear and maybe some anxiety — then you may repeat the emotions.

After giving birth, most new moms feel a little blue. That’s quite common. The excitement of pregnancy shifts to taking on many challenges you may never have faced before.

Some call these mild feelings of depression “baby blues.” If you have these feelings, they usually go away in a few days or a week or two. No treatment is generally needed.

For some new moms, and a few dads, too, the blue feelings can stretch on for a longer period after birth. The feelings can be deeper. The mom may be anxious, fearful, sad, panicky or withdrawn. This may be postpartum depression.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder. It’s a common condition that affects up to one in five new mothers. Estimates for exact numbers are difficult since some cases go untreated and unreported.

We don’t yet know the disorder’s cause. We suspect that hormonal changes and the stress of caring for a new baby have roles. Genetic and/or biological factors and social factors are also thought to play a role.

Postpartum depression can start shortly after the child’s birth or can start any time within the first year after birth.

Feeling blue does not mean you’re a bad mother or that you don’t love your child. It means you have a mood disorder that’s treatable.

If you notice the indications of postpartum depression, promptly see your health care provider. The sooner you address the disorder, the better for you, your baby and your parenting partner.

What Are the Signs of Postpartum Depression?

  • The symptoms of postpartum depression can last from a few weeks to a year after birth or longer, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the treatment received. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can include:
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, empty or overwhelmed.
  • Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason.
  • Worrying or feeling overly anxious. This can include intrusive disturbing thoughts.
  • Feeling moody, irritable or restless.
  • Oversleeping or being unable to sleep, even when your baby is asleep.
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
  • Experiencing anger or rage.
  • Losing interest in activities that you usually enjoy.
  • Suffering from physical aches and pains, including frequent headaches, stomach problems and muscle pain.
  • Eating too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding your friends and family.
  • Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with your baby.
  • Persistently doubting your ability to care for your baby.
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt.

More serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:

  • Lack of interest in your infant.
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
  • Hallucinations or delusions.
  • Loss of contact with reality.

Who’s at Risk for Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression isn’t limited to first-time moms. It can happen after the birth of any child. You may be at greater risk for postpartum depression if you have:

  • A history of depression. This can include previous bouts of postpartum depression or conditions such as an anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder.
  • A history of depression in your family.
  • Other stresses in your life, such as marital or financial problems.
  • Limited support from your family and friends.
  • An unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.
  • History of infertility or fertility treatments.
  • A baby with a challenging temperament.

What’s the Treatment for Postpartum Depression?

Treatment for postpartum depression can include counseling/talk therapy, medication or a combination of both.

Counseling — you’ll talk one-on-one with your mental health professional who may be a counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. Counseling can include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This helps people recognize and change negative thoughts and behaviors and increase positive thoughts and behaviors.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT). This helps people understand and work through difficult personal relationships.

Group psychotherapy. This involves meeting with a mental health professional and others with similar symptoms. CBT and IPT techniques may be utilized.

Medications — can include medications that adjust the brain chemistry that affects mood regulation. If you’re prescribed antidepressants, it’s common for them to take a few weeks to be most effective. If your provider recommends medication, it’s a good idea to discuss how the medication may affect your baby if you’re nursing.

If you — or someone you care about — display postpartum depression symptoms, see a health care provider. If needed, you’ll be referred to a mental health care professional.

You will be able to work through postpartum depression and get back to the excitement and joys of parenting. Remember, there is hope. You are not alone.

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