Postpartum Depression and Baby Blues

Depression is common in new mothers. Find out more about the signs and symptoms - and what you can do to feel better. 

Depression in new mothers. 

Having a baby is tough - no matter how excited you were or how much you love your child. Given the lack of sleep, new responsibilities, and lack of time for yourself, it's no surprise that many new mothers feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster ride. In fact, mild depression and mood swings are so common in new mothers that it has a name of its own: Baby Blues. 

Is it the baby blues or the postpartum depression? 

Most women experience at least some symptoms of baby blues immediately after giving birth. It is caused by the sudden change in hormones after childbirth, combined with stress, isolation, sleep deprivation, and fatigue. You might feel like crying, overwhelmed, and emotionally frail. Generally, this starts within the first few days after giving birth, peaks around a week, and ends at the end of the second week after giving birth. The baby blues are perfectly normal, but if your symptoms don't go away or get worse after a few weeks, you may have postpartum depression. 

Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression. 

Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression is a more serious problem - one that shouldn't be ignored. In the beginning, postpartum depression may look like normal baby blues. In fact, postpartum depression and baby blues share many symptoms, including mood swings, crying, sadness, insomnia, and irritability. The difference is that with postpartum depression, symptoms are more severe (such as thoughts of suicide or the inability to care for your newborn) and last longer. 

  • You might find yourself withdrawing from your partner or unable to bond well with your baby. 
  • You may find that your anxiety is spiraling out of control, preventing you from sleeping - even when your baby is sleeping - or from eating appropriately. 
  • You may feel overwhelmingly guilty or worthless, or you may begin to have thoughts preoccupied with death or suicide. 

These warning signs of postpartum depression should raise a red flag. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a screening tool designed to help detect postpartum depression, can give you a more precise estimation of the severity of your disorder. Follow the instructions carefully. A score higher than 13 implicates that a more thorough investigation is needed as you may suffer from postpartum depression. 

Join Head Habitat's course on 'mood disorders' to get the tools necessary to cope

Postpartum depression causes and risk factors. 

There isn't a single reason why some young mothers develop puerperal depression and others don't, but a number of interrelated causes and risk factors are believed to contribute to the problem. 

Hormonal changes. After giving birth, women experience a sharp drop in estrogen and progesterone hormone levels. Thyroid levels can also drop, leading to fatigue and depression. These rapid hormonal fluctuations - along with the changes in immune system function, blood pressure, and metabolism experienced by new mothers - can set off postpartum depression. 

Physical changes. Birth brings numerous physical and emotional changes with it. You may be struggling with physical pain from childbirth or the difficulty of losing the baby's weight, both of which are unsettling about your physical and sexual attractiveness. 

Stress. The stress of caring for a newborn can also take its toll. Young mothers often suffer from a lack of sleep. Additionally, you may feel overwhelmed and afraid of properly caring for your baby. These adjustments can be especially difficult if you're an expectant mother who is trying to get used to a completely new identity. 

Risk factors for postpartum depression. Several factors can predispose you to postpartum depression: The most significant is a history of postpartum depression, as a previous episode can increase your chance of an episode recurring by 30-50%. A history of non-pregnancy-related depression or a family history of mood disorders is also a risk factor. Others are social stressors like a lack of emotional support, an abusive relationship, and financial insecurity. The risk is also significantly increased in women who abruptly discontinue drugs for the purpose of pregnancy. 

Coping with Postpartum Depression 

Join Head Habitat's course on 'mood disorders' to get the tools necessary to cope

Tip 1: Building a secure bond with your baby 

The process of emotional bonding between the mother and her child, also called attachment, is the most profound task of infancy. The success of this wordless relationship enables a child to feel safe enough to fully develop and affects how they interact, communicate, and develop relationships throughout life. A secure bond is created when you, as a mother, warmly and consistently respond to the physical and emotional needs of your baby. If your baby is crying, calm them down quickly. When your baby laughs or smiles, you react in the same way. Basically, you and your baby are in sync. They recognize each other's emotional signals and respond to them. Postpartum depression can break this bond. Depressed mothers can sometimes be loving and attentive, but sometimes also react negatively or not at all. Mothers with postpartum depression tend to interact less with their babies, breastfeed, play, and read to their children less often. They can also be inconsistent in the way they care for their newborns. 

However, when you learn to bond with your baby, you will not only benefit from your child, but also from the release of endorphins that make you happier and more confident as a mother. How to bond with your baby If you did not experience secure attachment as an infant, you may not know how to achieve secure attachment - but you can learn. Our human brain is prepared for this non-verbal emotional connection that gives you and your baby so much pleasure. 

Tip 2: Rely on others for help and support. 

Humans are social. Positive social interactions relieve stress faster and more efficiently than any other means of stress reduction. As history and evolution show us, new mothers have always received help from those around them in caring for themselves and their babies after birth. In today's world, new mothers often find themselves alone, exhausted, and lonely for supportive contact with adults. 

Try these tips on connecting with others

Prioritize your relationships. When you are feeling depressed and vulnerable, keeping in touch with family and friends is more important than ever - even if you prefer to be alone. You will feel worse if you isolate yourself, so make your relationships with others a priority. Let loved ones know what they need and how they would like to be supported. 

Don't keep your feelings to yourself. In addition to the practical help your friends and family can provide, they can also act as a much-needed emotional outlet. Share all of your experiences - the good, the bad, and the ugly - meet with someone in person to vent. It doesn't matter who you speak to as long as that person is willing to listen without judgment and offer you security and support. 

Join a group. Even if you have friends who will support you, you should consider looking for other women who are facing the same transition to motherhood. It is very comforting to hear that other mothers share your worries, insecurities, and feelings. Good places to meet new mothers are new parent support groups or organizations like Mommy and Me. Check with your pediatrician about other resources in your area. 

Tip 3: take care of yourself. 

The best thing you can do to relieve or prevent postpartum depression is to take care of yourself. The more you care about your mental and physical wellbeing, the better you will feel. Simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in helping you feel like yourself again. 

Skip the housework - make yourself and your baby a priority. Allow yourself to focus on yourself and your baby - this 24/7 job is more work than a full-time job. 

Start exercising again. Studies show that exercise can be as effective as medication in treating depression. So the sooner you get up and move again, the better. Don't overdo it: a 30-minute walk a day works wonders. Stretching exercises like those in yoga have proven to be particularly effective. 

Practice mindfulness meditation. Research supports the effectiveness of meditation in making you feel calmer and more energetic. It can also help you become more aware of what you need and what you are feeling. 

Get your sleep! A full eight hours may seem like an unattainable luxury with a newborn, but poor sleep worsens your depression. Do what you can to get plenty of rest - from getting help from your partner or family members to taking a nap when you can. 

Take time for yourself to relax and take a break from your duties as a mother. Find little ways to pamper yourself, such as taking a bubble bath, enjoying a hot cup of tea, or lighting scented candles. Get a massage. 

Make meals a priority. When you are depressed, diet often suffers. What you eat affects your mood and the quality of your breast milk. So try to develop healthy eating habits. 

Get out in the sun. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun a day. 

Tip 4: Take the time to relate to your partner 

More than half of all divorces occur after the birth of a child. For many couples, the relationship with their partner is the primary source of emotional expression and social connection. A new baby's demands and needs can get in the way and break that relationship unless couples invest some time, energy, and thought in maintaining their bond. 

Don't make a scapegoat. The stress of sleepless nights and nursing duties can leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. And since you can't take it out on the baby, it's all too easy to direct your frustration on your partner. Instead of pointing a finger, remember that you are here together. When you tackle parental challenges as a team, you become an even stronger unit. 

Keep the lines of communication open. Many things change after a baby is born, including roles and expectations. For many couples, the separation of household and childcare after birth is a major source of stress. It is important to talk about these problems instead of letting them fester. Don't assume that your partner knows how you are feeling or what you need. 

Make time for a couple. It is important to make time for both of you when you can reconnect. But don't put pressure on yourself to be romantic or adventurous (unless you're both ready for it). You don't have to go out on a date to enjoy each other's company. Spending 15 or 20 minutes together - undisturbed and focused on each other - can make a huge difference in your sense of closeness. 

Join Head Habitat's course on 'mood disorders' to get the tools necessary to cope

Postpartum Depression Treatment 

If despite self-help and support from your family, you are still struggling with postpartum depression, you may want professional treatment. 

Individual therapy or marriage counseling. A good therapist can help you deal successfully with the adjustments of motherhood. If you have marital problems or feel unsupported at home, marriage counseling can be very helpful. 

Antidepressants. In cases of postpartum depression where your ability to function adequately for yourself or your baby is impaired, antidepressants may be an option. However, medications should be closely monitored by a doctor and have been shown to be more effective when accompanied by psychotherapy. 

Hormone therapy. Estrogen replacement therapy sometimes helps with postpartum depression. Estrogen is often used in combination with an antidepressant. There are risks associated with hormone therapy. So speak to your doctor about what is best - and safest - for you.