After nine months of pregnancy, many women just can’t wait to get back to normal. It can be really hard to know what’s normal with a new baby in the mix though. For many moms, the road to “normal” can involve some tough moments like the “baby blues” or another condition called postpartum depression.
The “baby blues” can affect up to 80% of new mothers, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The baby blues occur most commonly within the first 2 weeks following delivery and can involve feelings of sadness or moodiness. The symptoms do not interfere with the way new parents live their lives and often resolve on their own. Although the baby blues can make a person feel depressed, a clinical diagnosis of postpartum depression requires a different set of criteria. Having baby blues does increase a woman’s risk of postpartum depression and may progress to postpartum depression if they last beyond 2 weeks and start to have an impact on day-to-day functioning.
Postpartum depression is a deep feeling of sadness or despair in new moms, and is far more intense than the mood swings or crying that many notice in the days or weeks after giving birth. In rare cases, new moms can experience a more serious condition known as postpartum psychosis in the weeks following birth too.
Although the symptoms can vary from woman to woman, these are some common ones to look out for:
Researchers are as of yet unable to pinpoint exactly what causes postpartum depression, though there are many possible contributing factors, such as rapid hormonal shifts after childbirth, sleep deprivation, change in psychosocial stressors, and changed sense of self and responsibilities. Though there is no direct cause that has been identified, healthcare providers have discovered some risk factors involved with the onset of postpartum depression, although it quite often seems to be just the (bad) luck of the draw:
If you believe you have or are at risk for postpartum depression, it's best to call your healthcare provider right away. Postpartum depression is slightly different in nature than regular depression, so it’s important to have somebody knowledgeable guide you through it. Talk to your partner, friends, or other family about your depression if you need to, as bouncing your feelings off people is a great way to begin the recovery process.
It's also important to know that, while the clinical definition has fairly strict parameters, the experience of depression after giving birth often doesn't start in the first few days, weeks, or even months after delivery. In fact, in practice, postpartum depression can occur any time in the first year or so after having your little one. It's also possible for a non-birthing parent to develop postpartum depression - this includes dads, adoptive parents, and foster parents.
Postpartum depression is a very serious condition that can have wide-ranging effects on the whole family, so you should call your healthcare provider if you begin to suspect that you may be developing postpartum depression. Early intervention and treatment is the best way to get in front of postpartum depression and help manage its effects.