Many women experience the ‘baby blues’ after giving birth.
The birth of a baby sparks feelings of joy and hope. But for many women, having a baby is associated with darker moods.
“As many as 50% to 75% of new mothers experience a shift in their emotions known as the ‘baby blues’ after delivery,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Up to 15% of these women will develop postpartum depression, which is more severe and long-lasting than the baby blues.
Postpartum depression is a treatable condition, says Mayra Mendez, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. As with other kinds of depression, treatment can involve mindfulness lifestyle adjustments, therapy and medication.
Here are 11 signs and symptoms of postpartum depression:
1. Drastic mood changes
Some postpartum women experience an overwhelming sadness through most of the day. This feeling seems to have no trigger. “A mother might say that she feels sad and isn’t motivated to take care of herself or her baby because her mood is so low,” Mendez says. This can lead to extreme highs or lows.
A new mom may experience crying episodes multiple times a day in response to feelings of sadness, hopelessness or despair. Some new moms may cry because they feel they aren’t taking care of their child properly or feel overwhelmed by the demands and responsibilities of parenthood.
3. Changes in eating habits
Eating too much or too little can be a sign of postpartum depression. “Overeating or loss of appetite may be experienced as behaviors that a mother has control over and no one else can dictate, thus empowering her,” Mendez says. “But this short-term sense of control can turn to despair as eating too much or not enough loses its appeal and satiation effect quickly.” This could intensify feelings of depression in the long run.
Anxiety — feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy — is often associated with postpartum depression. These feelings “add to self-doubt about parenting competence and confidence,” Mendez says. Anxiety could also disrupt one’s daily living routines.
5. Sleep disruption
Postpartum depression may be further aggravated by disruption to the new mom’s usual sleeping routine as she adjusts to her baby’s short sleep cycles and irregular sleep patterns, Mendez says. A mother experiencing postpartum depression may want to sleep more than usual to avoid facing the responsibilities of parenthood.
Conversely, a new mom unable to relax and let go of feelings of guilt, shame or a sense of incompetence may have trouble sleeping and experience insomnia.
Physical changes brought on by giving birth can contribute to postpartum fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, a significant drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the body of a woman who has just given birth may contribute to postpartum depression.
Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland may also plummet, which can lead to feelings of sadness, sluggishness and depression.
Also, sleeping problems can lead to feelings of tiredness and exhaustion.
7. Heightened irritability and anger
Depression can manifest itself as deep sadness and despair, but it can also be associated with irritability, anger, agitation and sometimes aggressive outbursts. “The mother experiencing postpartum depression may feel irritable and angry from multiple complicating factors,” Mendez says.
Those factors include:
— Sleep disturbance.
— Poor nutrition.
— Pain and discomfort that may linger from pregnancy and delivery.
8. A loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
Depression interferes with a sense of hopefulness, Mendez says. “Stimulating a sense of hopefulness often promotes a desire to engage in activities, activates desire to make plans and promotes exploration and curiosity for new adventures, all of which elevate mood and reinforce feelings of pleasure and happiness.”
With postpartum depression, a mother may feel isolated and limited in her ability to have fun because of her parental responsibilities. Depression also saps the individual of motivation to engage in previously sought out activities and reinforces isolation, weariness and dampened mood.
9. Difficulty bonding with your baby
A mother experiencing postpartum depression may feel so tired, distressed and dispassionate that she disengages with her newborn, says Teralyn Sell, a psychotherapist, brain health coach and life and health coach based in Milwaukee. “The depression may be so impairing that as to render her incapable of nurturing and caring for her baby,” she says. “The risk of neglect runs high not because of intent to harm the baby, but because of overwhelming, inescapable depression and despair.”
10. Postpartum psychosis
This condition is relatively rare, but it can occur, particularly if there is a history of severe mental illness — like bipolar disorder — in the mother’s family, Sell says.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of postpartum psychosis include:
— Confusion and disorientation.
— Obsessive thoughts about your baby.
— Hallucinations and delusions.
— Sleep disturbances.
— Excessive energy and agitation.
— Attempts to harm yourself or your baby.
11. Thoughts of hurting yourself or your child
“This is something that we don’t talk about but happens all too frequently,” Sell says. “These kind of intrusive thoughts don’t mean that you don’t love your child, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you will act upon those ideas. However, there is a lot of guilt and shame around these thoughts, which can lead to a greater sense of isolation.”
Here are signs that someone may have thoughts of hurting themselves, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
— Being in a state of deep despair. The person talks about feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped or being in severe emotional pain.
— Threatening suicide or talking about wanting to die. Not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. However, every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
— Showing dangerous or self-harmful behavior. The person engages in potentially dangerous behavior, such as driving recklessly, having unsafe sex or increase their use of drugs and/or alcohol.
— Making preparations. The person begins to put their personal business in order. This might include visiting friends and family members, giving away personal possessions, making a will and cleaning up their room or home. Often the person will search online for ways to die or buy a gun. Some people will write a note before attempting suicide.
— Being sad or moody. The person has long-lasting sadness and mood swings. Depression is a major risk factor for suicide.
— Sudden calmness. The person suddenly becomes calm after a period of depression or moodiness.
— Withdrawing from others. The person chooses to be alone and avoids friends or social activities. They also lose interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed.
— Changes in personality, appearance, sleep pattern. The person’s attitude or behavior changes, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. Also, they suddenly become less concerned about their personal appearance. They sleep much more or much less than typical for that person.
These thoughts and behaviors can be brought on by:
— Sleep deprivation.
— Hormone changes.
— Chronic stress.
To recap, here are 11 signs of postpartum depression:
— Drastic mood changes.
— Changes in eating habits.
— Sleep disruptions.
— Heightened irritability and anger.
— A loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities.
— Difficulty bonding with your baby.
— Postpartum psychosis.
— Thoughts of hurting yourself or your child.
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