What does Postpartum Depression look like?
You may have been taught that becoming a mother would be the most joyful period of your life. Instead, you’re wondering why you feel sadness and despair instead of joy and happiness.
While motherhood offers moments of great joy, the reality is that becoming a mother can feel like a bumpy ride on an emotional roller coaster.
Take into consideration a new mother’s experience: hormonal changes, recovery from labor, sleep deprivation, changes in identity, breastfeeding issues, attending to your newborn baby’s needs, a shift in the relationship with your partner … it’s no wonder the motherhood transition can be a difficult one to navigate.
The Baby Blues
Many women (up to 85%) experience what we call the “Baby Blues,” which can last days or weeks after giving birth. The baby blues can look like tearfulness, trouble sleeping, mood swings, feelings of nervousness or tension, and worry over your responsibilities or baby. You may experience one or all of these symptoms.
The baby blues is a normal response during the postpartum period and is quite common. If your blues last longer than 3 weeks, this may be a major clue that you are experiencing postpartum depression.
Postpartum Depression can affect as many as 1 in every 7 mothers (that’s a lot when you think about it). A mother suffering with postpartum depression may experience:
- excessive worry
- extreme sadness
- mood swings
- feeling “off” or “not like yourself”
- difficulty sleeping
- feelings of hopelessness
- thoughts of harming self or others
- isolation from friends and family
This is not an exhaustive list of all postpartum depression symptoms. If you find yourself suffering from 1 or 2 symptoms on this list (not everyone will experience all of the symptoms), and they are severe enough to prevent you from healthy functioning and/or caring for yourself and baby, then you may need to be screened for postpartum depression.
It is important to note that there are similarities between the symptoms of the baby blues and postpartum depression; however, the two are different conditions. So, if you’re trying to figure out whether you’re suffering from baby blues or postpartum depression, keep in mind that baby blues symptoms do not last longer than 3 weeks and are milder in nature.
Also, postpartum depression can occur at any time within the first year after having your baby. Symptoms may gradually develop over several months, or they may come on suddenly.
Depression can also occur during pregnancy. Studies have shown that women struggling with prenatal depression are more likely to experience postpartum depression.
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
Postpartum depression is part of a group of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (the technical term used to describe postpartum mood issues). What this means is that postpartum depression is just one type of mood issue related to the time period following the birth of your baby.
Other postpartum mood disorders include Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Postpartum Psychosis, and Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Postpartum Anxiety symptoms often appear alongside depression, but some do suffer from anxiety alone. Symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Excessive worry over your role and responsibilities as a mother
- Negative thoughts about yourself or extreme self-doubt
- Expecting bad or dangerous things to happen to yourself or baby
- Panic attacks
Postpartum OCD is another form of anxiety, and can also appear with depression symptoms. Mothers with a personal or family history of anxiety or OCD are more likely to exhibit symptoms during postpartum. Symptoms of OCD may include:
- Intrusive thoughts about harming your baby (the majority of mothers with OCD do not act on these thoughts)
- Constantly cleaning or washing
- Rigid ideas about caring for your baby
- Constant rechecking of tasks
Postpartum Psychosis is one of the rarest postpartum disorders. Onset typically occurs immediately after childbirth or within the first 3 to 4 weeks following childbirth. There is a 3-5% rate of infanticide and suicide associated with postpartum psychosis, thus immediate treatment is needed. Symptoms of psychosis may include:
- Hearing voices or seeing images that aren’t there
- Strange beliefs, or delusions, about protecting your baby
- Paranoid behavior
- Experiencing a break from reality
Postpartum PTSD is related to real or perceived trauma experienced during childbirth, such as an unexpected cesarean, prolonged or very painful labor, stillbirth, or injury to baby during delivery. Symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Persistent replaying of the trauma in your mind
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Feeling intense fear
- Easily startled or feeling “jumpy”
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