Society and the media have often perpetuated the myth that having a baby is all sunshine and happiness. The moms in all those Pampers commercials are smiling like they enjoy the diaper-changing process. Celebrities pose with their new babies and cherubic toddlers made perfect by a team of makeup artists and lighting crews.
These portrayals are shiny and camera-ready versions of the truth. Most moms struggle with the challenges of a new baby. And, for up to 20% of women, the year following their baby’s birth can be a serious struggle.
There are the normal stressors of new-parenthood, like sleepless nights and a change in routine and identity, that everyone is faced with. It’s when these struggles become heavy and you can’t resolve them on your own or with the help of your partner, that a mother may be suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).
PPD has received more press over the last two decades, and there are dozens of websites dedicated to helping moms and their supporters identify and address their depression.
The following are some common signs and symptoms of depression. While this is not a complete list, nor meant to diagnose, these items might help you and your partner identify if what you’re feeling goes beyond the “Baby Blues” and hormone shifts into something more serious. If that’s the case, there are also steps you can take and techniques you can use to ease symptoms of postpartum depression.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression (PPD)
1.Difficulty sleeping and insomnia
Research has shown that problems sleeping can herald problems with depression in the general population and can be particularly tricky to identify in the perinatal population.1 Of course, your sleep will be disturbed while caring for an infant, but when you can’t stay asleep, or you can’t fall asleep even when you’re tired and when you have a chance to sleep, you may need intervention.
2.Irritability and moodiness
When every little thing sets you off, or you’re crying more frequently than usual, it is often a sign of stress. But when the irritability and moodiness is prolonged and not easily addressed, it could be a sign of PPD.
3.Excessive feelings of guilt and inadequacy as a mother
New motherhood is challenging for everyone. If you’re plagued with feelings of guilt or constantly comparing yourself to other mothers and feeling like you come up short, this can contribute to feelings of depression.
4.Anxiety and worry
Especially for your first child, everything is new and can spike anxieties and worry about whether you’re “doing it right.” When those anxieties don’t subside, or the worries feel excessive or even intrusive, it might be a symptom of PPD.
(If anxiety feels like a bigger problem for you than depression, take a look at this list of signs and coping tips)
5.Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Exhaustion, anxiety, and variable moods can all make it hard to concentrate. Sometimes you might feel paralyzed when trying to make a simple decision. In conjunction with other symptoms, this can also be a sign of PPD.
If you or your partner are experiencing these symptoms or think you might have PPD, it is not your fault. You are not a bad mom. And you can get better.
It’s normal to have mixed feelings after bringing home your baby. You may feel excited, scared, incredibly happy, and terribly sad or frustrated. But if you are feeling overwhelmed by the emotions on the negative end of the spectrum, the following are a few techniques to help ease symptoms of PPD and find some balance again.
Techniques to help ease symptoms of PPD
1.Allow yourself time to adjust
The transition into motherhood is one of the biggest changes a person can go through, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It takes time for your body to recover, whether you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, an emergency c-section, or any of the million possible variations of delivery between those extremes. It also takes time to adjust to having a new little person in your house and a new routine. Not to mention the time it takes to get to know this new little person. Be gentle with yourself and accept that the process might take longer than you think.
2.Get uninterrupted sleep
“Everyone knows” that new parents don’t get any sleep. But since sleep disruption has such a strong bearing on mental health, it is important to prioritize getting a solid 6-8 hours to bolster you through difficult times. With a new baby, this means asking your partner, family members, or close friends to help with the baby for a couple nights in a row to enable you to get some very valuable shut-eye.
3.Spend time around people
Being home alone with your baby can be very isolating, stressful, and lonely. Loneliness can also trigger depression. Research has shown that during times of isolation and stress, the brain releases a chemical that prompts people to affiliate with others.2 This is interpreted as a natural tendency to join forces with, and seek comfort from, other people when threatened or in a stressful situation. The social interaction will boost your mood and ease symptoms of depression and stress.
When you’re home alone with your baby, call a friend to hang out. There are also many mothers’ groups available for meetups and baby playgroups on a weekly basis.
Read here for more tips on enjoyable ways to combat stress.
4.Take care of yourself physically
Research shows that exercise is as effective as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication for mild and moderate depression.3 Make sure you’re getting 30-40 minutes of moderate exercise as often as you can. Find a mom buddy and take walks together, or try baby-and-me yoga or another form of exercise that you enjoy.
Eating well, and not skipping meals, also contributes to your overall wellbeing. Strive to eat fresh foods and complete meals, even if it involves asking for help to get them.
Of course, emotional and mental self-care is also important.
5.Talk it out
Talking with another person can help you identify what is bothering you, and identifying your feelings puts you in a better position to manage them. One fMRI study found that simple act of naming feelings calms the brain and regulates painful and difficult emotions.4
You can talk to a trusted friend, another mother who shares some of your experiences, or to a professional counsellor. The US Preventive Services Task Force has found evidence that “counselling interventions are effective in preventing perinatal depression.”5 This means that talking to a professional can be beneficial for new mothers even if you do not have clinical PPD.
For even more ways to cope with postpartum depression, you can check out the article “Why do I feel so blue?”
If you would like to talk to a psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression, call Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute phone consultation: (281)-267-1742.
Links in order of appearance:
- Blumenthal, J. A., Smith, P. J., & Hoffman, B. M. (2012). Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?. ACSM’s health & fitness journal, 16(4), 14–21. doi:10.1249/01.FIT.0000416000.09526.eb
- Jin J. Counseling Interventions to Prevent Perinatal Depression. JAMA. 2019;321(6):620. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.0253
- Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting Feelings Into Words. Psychological Science, 18(5), 421–428. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01916.x
- Sharkey K. M. (2013). Time to treat problematic sleep disturbance in perinatal women. Behavioral sleep medicine, 11(4), 308–310. doi:10.1080/15402002.2013.823789
- Taylor, S. E. (n.d.). Tend and Befriend Theory. Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology: Volume 1, 32–49. doi: 10.4135/9781446249215.n3