Most new mothers go through at least a mild form of the "baby blues." A sudden change in the hormones swirling around mom's body, the physical and emotional stresses of labor and birth, establishing feeding, worrying about every breath a new baby takes, and the shock of sleep deprivation all hit in the space of a few days. It is no wonder mom might be weepy, anxious, scared and miserable. This is so normal that it is a very lucky when new moms get away without at least a touch of the baby blues.
These feelings can start a day or so after birth, get to their worst at around one week and you should be coming out of the other side of it by the end of your baby's second week.
Post-partum depression looks very much like the "baby blues" in the beginning. The difference is that the feelings do not begin to lift, in fact, they get worse and start to impact how you care for yourself and your baby.
Post-partum depression can occur in the first week or so after birth, or it can start in the first few months. Up to 20% of mothers suffer from postpartum depression, so you are not alone.
It is important to get help as soon as you suspect you, or someone you love has post-partum depression. Postnatal depression is not just feeling sad; it is a potentially fatal medical condition that cannot be made better by "counting your blessings" or "being grateful for what you have." It should be closely monitored and if necessary treated, and here are some of the warning signs. If you find yourself feeling any of these things for more than a day or two, please seek help.
If you are having a crisis right now, please call 911.
Being depressed is not the same as feeling sad. Depression isn't a just a feeling, it is a state of being. It is caused by a reaction to how your brain is processing the chemical signals it is receiving, and you cannot fix it by "pulling yourself together." When you are depressed, you are more likely not to feel anything at all, to be numb and to find nothing cheers you up at all.
As the chemical levels in your brain ebb and flow you can find yourself experiencing mood swings where you feel fine one moment, and quite literally the next moment you can be in tears, or irrationally angry.
It is not you causing this. It is not happening because you cannot control yourself or because you are weak. A person with diabetes can do things to help their body and mind stay healthy, but they still have diabetes because their body is not producing or processing insulin the same way as other peoples. Depression is the same, it is chemical, and it is not your fault.
You are supposed to be happy because your long awaited bundle of joy is here and you find yourself irritable and easily angered. Your partner is ten minutes late home, and you have a screaming meltdown at them. It doesn't matter that they stopped off on the way to pick up takeout so you would have something hot to eat without cooking. You are still furious because you were expecting them at 6 PM and they weren't home until 6:10 PM.
Your baby will not settle down, and you shock yourself by shouting at them. The kettle takes to long to boil, and you throw your cup against the wall and smash it into a thousand tiny pieces. Afterward, you are ashamed of your irrational anger and often mystified why you behaved that way.
We are not talking about being a little bit weepy when you watch a sad movie here. We are talking about when you wake up and think of your day ahead, and it is enough to make you start crying.
You finally manage to stop and walk into the kitchen; then the tears just start falling, for no reason whatsoever and so it goes on. It doesn't matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing, you can feel those tears start to well up, and nothing can stop them from pouring down your face.
It is not the same as having one of those moments where you feel like a good cry, let yourself go with it, cry it out and feel better afterward. This kind of crying just springs from nowhere goes on and on, and never seems to make you feel like you have exorcised some bad emotions.
Worry is your new conjoined twin as soon as you have a child and that is entirely reasonable. Even when they are fully grown, you still have those random thoughts about "is this ok or is that ok."
It becomes something you need help with when it starts to affect how you go about your daily life. Panic attacks can, and usually do happen for no reason. You can be sitting rocking the baby when a wave of severe anxiety washes over you. Your heart beats fast in your chest, and you feel as if something awful is about to happen. There is no way out, and you do not know what to do. You are stuck where you are unable to move or calm yourself; you just have to wait for it to pass.
If you get attacks like this or start to feel so anxious you cannot function safely you need to get help. You are not alone, and there are people who can help make it better.
The most surprising, and in some ways horrifying, symptom some mothers' experience is an inability to bond with their baby. No matter how wanted your child is, no matter how long you waited for them you can still feel this way, and it is normal.
Every new mother assumes she will have her baby placed in her arms and feel that unique bond with her child that everyone talks about. Your heart will swell with a love you have never felt before, and you will never want to let them go. This is not always true, it fact around 50% of the time moms do not feel like that at all.
Just because you do not have that immediate bond does not mean you have depression, but if it persists, or if you did feel a bond with your baby and no longer do, it may be a warning sign.
Remember, it can be tough to feel connected to anyone when you are suffering from depression, it is not your fault if your emotions are dulled.
Again, to some degree, this is normal for all parents. You become obsessed with doing the"right thing" for your baby at all times, especially in the first few weeks. In mothers who are not suffering from post-partum depression these thoughts slowly recede, and although they will pop up again from time to time, they do not become debilitating.
In moms who are suffering from post-partum depression the fear that you are not a good mother can take you over. You may decide that because you are not a good mother that your baby would be better off without you or you may choose to stop caring about yourself or your child properly because "what is the point?"
Having people tell you, you are doing a great job does not help either. When you suffer from depression those positive affirmations just bounce off off the shell you find yourself in.
The feeling that you are worthless or inadequate or thoughts of guilt and shame can affect you in a similar way to the fear that you are not a good mother. The difference is that you might feel like a poor wife, or daughter, or mother to your other children. You may feel guilty that you didn't do the laundry or go to the PTA meeting. You might feel overwhelming shame because you shouted at your baby or left them to cry for a few minutes when you couldn't handle the crying any longer.
If these emotions are fleeting, you feel bad for a half hour or a day, or so, you are a run of the mill mom having run of the mill emotions. If these feelings persist and you start to feel them all of the time, over every little thing, you may be suffering from post-partum depression.
You may not be able to wait to show off your little prince or princess to the world. It may be your idea of heaven to have dozens of friends and family around you, bringing food, holding the baby while you get two minutes in the bathroom and playing with the older kids when you are having a nap. If you don't, as a rule, like visitors that is normal as well.
It is only when you have previously enjoyed having friends and family around and going out and visiting that it may be a sign you are unwell.
If a friend asks to pop round and see you, but you just don't fancy seeing anyone today because the place looks a mess and you want to have a shower, no worries. If it becomes regular to put off friends and family because you just cannot face seeing people it is time to speak with someone and seek help.
You might have enjoyed many activities before having your baby that just do not appeal to you at the moment. Perhaps you liked playing softball with a team from work but would now just rather spend your time with your baby. Or maybe something creative was your thing, and you liked to bake for friends and family.
With a young baby it would be a miracle if you had all the attention and enthusiasm for previous hobbies and activities and that is OK, but if, after a couple of months you and the baby have settled into a routine, and you still feel no inclination to do something you had previously enjoyed it may be a sign you need help.
Remember "I can't face coming to the gym today because I had a rough night with the little one" is very different to "I used to enjoy going to the gym, but I just cannot bring myself to be bothered."
The first couple of months with your newborn play havoc with your eating habits. Even with the best of intentions and all of the support in the world you might still find yourself eating peanut butter from the jar using crackers as a spoon at 3 am after a feed. Such is the life of a new mom. This is why you should try and stock up on healthier snacks before the birth.
The warning signs of postpartum depression are quite different. If you have no appetite or cannot face eating something even when it is made for you and placed in front of you, this could be a warning sign. Likewise, if you notice you are prowling the house, stealing chocolate from your kids 'secret' stash, filling yourself with snacks all day every day and eating large portions of food in an attempt to make yourself feel better, post-partum depression is a possible cause.
Every new mother can say "I am not sleeping well." It is an expected part of being a new parent that the first few weeks will be feed, change, wind, nap, repeat. Do not worry if you are feeling tired; it doesn't mean you are depressed it means you have a newborn.
You should start to become concerned if, even when you are thoroughly exhausted, you just cannot fall asleep. If you get to a stage where you feel there is no point in trying to sleep because the baby is going to wake up as soon as you close your eyes so "what is the point?" or once you fall asleep somebody could set fire to your hair, and you wouldn't stir, you might need help.
There are plenty of ways to address sleep disturbances that will not affect your ability to look after your baby, so please do not wait to seek help.
Like the sleep disruption, if you tell someone you are tired they are going to say "Of course you are you have a new baby." However, there is the tired of looking after a newborn, and there is the gnawing, all-consuming exhaustion you might feel when you are suffering from depression.
This is the kind of fatigue that makes you feel barely able to lift your baby from the crib. The kind that is never eliminated by any amount of sleep and the kind that becomes your central focus, it is all you can think about, day and night.
If it gets to the stage where all you want to do is sleep, on a regular basis and no amount of rest is enough to recharge your system, even for a short while, please go and speak with a healthcare professional. It may be as simple as a lack of iron in your diet, or it may be as complex as depression.
What do you want me to make for dinner tonight? This is the kind of question you might usually love to hear when you have a small baby. The opportunity to have an actual hot meal placed in front of you without having to cook it yourself is something not to pass up. If it comes with someone to hold the baby while you eat said meal, even better.
However, such a simple question can feel like a major hurdle when you are depressed. You cannot think straight even without being asked questions, and the thought that you have to make decisions, even of the most simple kind can be totally overwhelming.
This can be especially burdensome if you have had to return to work and your job involves lots of quick thinking, creative thought, or decision making. Remember, a foggy day because the baby kept you up happens to everyone, sustained problems thinking or decision making do not.
If you have been struggling with some of the issues already described it may be you have not been able to ask for help, or perhaps you have tried to let someone know you are struggling, but they have not understood how bad things are feeling for you.
When post-partum depression takes root, you may no longer be able to think in an entirely rational manner. One of the biggest problems with depression is that you cannot always trust your brain or your thoughts because they may be muddied by your out of wack chemicals.
When it gets to this stage, it may feel logical to harm yourself to alleviate some of your pain. It might seem OK at the moment to slap your baby because they will just not stop crying.
Hurting yourself, or your child is never OK and if you begin to think it is, seek help straight away. Numbers are at the end of this article.
Sadly, suicide is the number one cause of mortality in post-partum women with 28% of maternal deaths being those where a new mother feels her only option is to take her own life.
In contrast to the slower descent into depression and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, mothers who have thoughts of suicide have often developed post-partum depression early, in the first three months after the birth and usually show rapid signs of decline.
Many people who have thoughts of suicide do not actually want to die, they just do not want to go on living with the pain and suffering they are feeling, and because they are ill, they see no other way out than to kill themselves.
If you are feeling suicidal or even have the slightest suspicion that a new mother you know may be having those thoughts, please seek help immediately. Do not be scared that you will no longer be allowed to care for your baby or that people will think less of you. By seeking help you are showing great strength and are doing the absolute best thing for you and your child.
Suicide Lifeline US: 1-800-272-8255 (they also have an online chat facility if you would find that easier than talking).
In Canada each province has its own number, but often, 911 is a safe assumption.
Postpartum support groups in the US & Canada can be found at:
Sources: Helpguide.org, WebMD.com, NHS.uk, RCPsych.ac.uk, NCT.org.uk, SuicidePrevention.ca