Postpartum Depression: Don’t Suffer in Silence

May 2021

The birth of a baby is usually a happy time, but for some new moms, the experience isn’t an entirely positive one. One in eight women experience postpartum depression (PPD) — pervasive feelings of sadness and anxiety after giving birth.

If you’re a new mother, here’s what you should know.

It’s not just the “baby blues”

PPD is different from the “baby blues” — feelings of being overwhelmed, emotional and exhausted in the days following childbirth.

PPD is a debilitating depression. Left untreated, it can put both a woman’s health and that of her baby at risk. It’s also a contributor to maternal mortality, according to the CDC.

The “baby blues” typically last three to five days, according to the Office on Women’s Health. PPD, however, has more severe symptoms and can last for months — sometimes even years.

Symptoms of PPD usually begin within a month of childbirth, but they can also happen up to a year after giving birth. Similar feelings of sadness and anxiety can even occur during pregnancy — in which case the condition’s called perinatal depression.

It’s not your fault

Women with PPD often blame themselves. But it’s important to know it’s not your fault. PPD is actually the most common problem for new mothers, according to the March of Dimes. It’s a medical condition that needs treatment, not a character flaw.

It’s a medical condition

Hormonal changes during pregnancy may trigger PPD, according to the Office on Women’s Health. The female hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their highest levels during pregnancy. Within 24 hours after giving birth, these levels plummet to pre-pregnancy levels. That sudden drop can trigger PPD.

Thyroid hormone levels — which are responsible for how your body uses and stores energy from food — can also drop after giving birth. Low thyroid levels can trigger depression. A simple blood test can determine if you need medication to correct your thyroid hormone levels.

Your mental health matters

To make sure PPD doesn’t get the best of you, you need to let others know you’re struggling. Here are three ways to proactively take action:

  • See your ob-gyn soon after giving birth. Screening for PPD is typically done by a woman’s ob-gyn. But 40 percent of women who have given birth don’t see their obstetrician for a postpartum visit, reports the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That figure may be even lower among lower-income and other at-risk populations for PPD.
  • Discuss your postpartum physical and mental health with your ob-gyn. Some women may think it’s only appropriate to discuss their physical health when they visit their ob-gyn. But your doctor won’t be able to help you if they don’t know what’s happening. Also, issues such as postpartum pain can contribute to PPD, so be sure to bring up any physical issues you’re having. Both pain and depression are treatable — but you have to let your doctor know.
  • Share your feelings. Don’t be surprised if your baby’s pediatrician screens you for PPD. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians screen women during well-baby visits at one, two, four and six months of age. If this happens, be honest and don’t try to change the subject. If you want to take the best care of your baby, you must first take the best care of yourself.

Recognize the symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of PPD is the first step to getting the help you need. Symptoms of PPD such as persistent sadness, difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping are also seen in other types of depression.

PPD symptoms may also include the following, according to the March of Dimes and the CDC:

Emotional changes, such as:

  • Feelings of anger and aggression
  • Feeling empty, numb, or emotionless
  • Experiencing severe mood swings
  • Being scared or panicked most of the time
  • Feeling disconnected from or unable to bond with your baby

Behavioral changes, such as:

  • Withdrawing from loved ones or favorite activities
  • Crying more frequently than usual
  • Difficulty initiating or sustaining breastfeeding

Intrusive or disturbing thoughts, such as:

  • Doubting your ability to care for your baby
  • Thinking you’re a failure or a bad mom
  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Worrying you’ll hurt the baby or yourself
  • Thinking about suicide

Get and accept help

PPD is treatable. You don’t need to suffer in silence or tough it out.

If your symptoms last more than two weeks or get increasingly more severe, talk to your doctor. Therapy and medication can treat most cases of PPD.

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