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Postpartum Depression: When to Ask for Help

“Postpartum” refers to the time period after childbirth, up until about a year. Most women get the “baby blues,” or they feel sad, empty, or hopeless within a few days of giving birth. For a lot of women, these baby blues go away in three to five days. If your baby blues don’t go away, and you find yourself feeling sad, empty, or hopeless for longer than two weeks, you may have postpartum depression. 

While feeling hopeless or empty after childbirth is not a regular or expected part of being a mother, you are not alone. In fact, one in 9 new mothers experience postpartum depression. However, it’s important to take it seriously—it’s a serious mental illness that can affect your behavior and physical well being. It interferes with your day-to-day life and can affect your ability to care for yourself and for your baby. 

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

All of the drastic hormonal changes you’re going through can trigger symptoms of postpartum depression. Your levels of estrogen and progesterone are at their absolute highest they’ll ever be when you’re pregnant, but during the first 24 hours after childbirth, they plummet back to normal levels. Think period hormones, but more extreme. Researchers believe this drastic and sudden change in hormones can lead to depression. 

It’s also possible for your thyroid hormone levels to drop after birth. Your doctor can perform a blood test to see if your thyroid is causing your symptoms, and if so, can prescribe you medicine to help. 

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Some seemingly normal changes that typically occur after pregnancy can cause symptoms similar to those of depression, so it’s important to know the difference. For example, most mothers feel overwhelmed when a new baby comes home—that’s doesn’t necessarily mean they have postpartum depression. If you have any of the following symptoms last for more than two weeks, that’s when you should call your doctor, nurse, or midwife. 

  • Feeling restless or moody
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
  • Crying a lot
  • Having thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Having thoughts of hurting your baby
  • Not having any interest in the baby
  • Not feeling connected to the baby
  • Feeling like they’re someone else’s baby
  • Having no energy or motivation
  • Eating too little, or too much
  • Having trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Having problems with your memory
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or like a bad mother
  • Losing interest in things you once found pleasure in
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Having headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems

It’s fairly common for women not to tell anyone about their symptoms because they feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty for feeling depressed during such a happy time. You might be feeling that you’re a bad mom, or that others will think you’re a bad mom, but this is simply not true. Any woman can become depressed during or after pregnancy, and it has absolutely nothing to do with your abilities as a mother. There is help out there, all you have to do is seek it—for yourself, and for your baby. 

What Can You Do At Home To Feel Better?

In addition to seeing a doctor to treat your postpartum depression, there are some important things you can do at home to help with your symptoms. 

Resting as much as you can is very important, as lack of sleep will only worsen your symptoms. Try your best to sleep whenever your baby is sleeping. Make sure you aren’t trying to do everything alone—ask your partner, a friend, or a family member for help. Ask them to babysit once in a while, too! It’s important to make time for getting out of the house, visiting friends, or just spending quality time with your partner. Talk with other mothers you know, share experiences with them, and get advice—odds are, they can relate to you and make you feel less alone. If you don’t have any mothers close in your circle, or you’d feel more comfortable talking to strangers, consider joining a support group.

Try your best to minimize stress as much as possible, and don’t make any major life changes right after giving birth—you’re going through enough change already. If this is unavoidable, arrange for support and help from your loved ones. 

If your symptoms seem more extreme or possibly dangerous, you may be suffering from postpartum psychosis. This only happens in about four new mothers out of every 1,000, and usually begins within the first two weeks after childbirth. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:

  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Feeling confused most of the time
  • Having rapid mood swings within several minutes
  • Trying to hurt yourself or your baby
  • Paranoia, or thinking that others are focused on harming you
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Behaving recklessly or in a way that is not normal behavior for you

You Are Not Alone

You don’t have to suffer alone—you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of your baby. Have your partner, your friend, or a caregiver take care of your baby while you’re dealing with your depression. Call your doctor, or have someone close to you call them. If you’re currently pregnant, make sure the people closest to you know postpartum depression symptoms so that they can help you if it’s necessary. 

For advice, support, and encouragement, call us at RMC. We’re here to help.