Ariadna Cymet Lanski, Psy.D.
The weeks after the birth can be filled with deep and powerful emotions, such as joy and excitement. At the same time, it can be overwhelming and make coping with the life changes of a new baby challenging. Talking with a professional can help.
How common is depression during and after pregnancy?
The exact number of women with depression during this time is unknown. But researchers believe that depression is one of the most common complications during and after pregnancy. Often, the depression is not recognized or treated, because some normal pregnancy changes cause similar symptoms and are happening at the same time. Tiredness, problems sleeping, stronger emotional reactions, and changes in body weight may occur during pregnancy and after pregnancy. But these symptoms may also be signs of depression.
What causes depression?
There may be a number of reasons why a woman gets depressed. Hormone changes or a stressful life event, such as a death in the family, can cause chemical changes in the brain that lead to depression. Depression is also an illness that runs in some families. Other times, it’s not clear what causes depression.
à History of depression or substance abuse
à Family history of mental illness
à Little support from family and friends
à Anxiety about the fetus
à Problems with previous pregnancy or birth
à Marital or financial problems
à Young age (of mother)
Other factors that may contribute to postpartum depression include:
à Feeling tired after delivery, broken sleep patterns, and not enough rest often keeps a new mother from regaining her full strength for weeks.
à Feeling overwhelmed with a new, or another, baby to take care of and doubting your ability to be a good mother.
à Feeling stress from changes in work and home routines. Sometimes, women think they have to be "super mom" or perfect, which is not realistic and can add stress.
à Having feelings of loss — loss of identity of who you are, or were, before having the baby, loss of control, loss of your pre-pregnancy figure, and feeling less attractive.
à Having less free time and less control over time. Having to stay home indoors for longer periods of time and having less time to spend with the your partner and loved ones.
What is the difference between “baby blues,” and postpartum depression?
The baby blues can happen in the days right after childbirth and normally go away within a few days to a week. A new mother can have sudden mood swings, sadness, crying spells, loss of appetite, sleeping problems, and feel irritable, restless, anxious, and lonely. Symptoms are not severe and treatment isn’t needed. But there are things you can do to feel better. Nap when the baby does. Ask for help from your spouse, family members, and friends. Join a support group of new moms or talk with other moms.
Postpartum depression can happen anytime within the first year after childbirth. A woman may have a number of symptoms such as sadness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness. The difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues is that postpartum depression often affects a woman’s well-being and keeps her from functioning well for a longer period of time. Postpartum depression needs to be treated by a doctor. Counseling, support groups, and medicines are things that can help.
What steps can I take if I have symptoms of depression during pregnancy or after childbirth?
Some women don’t tell anyone about their symptoms because they feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about feeling depressed when they are supposed to be happy. They worry that they will be viewed as unfit parents. Perinatal or post-partum depression can happen to any woman. It does not mean you are a bad or “not together” mom. You and your baby don’t have to suffer. There is help.
There are different types of individual and group “talk therapies” that can help a woman feel better and do better as a mom and as a person.
Here are some other helpful tips:
à Try to get as much rest as you can. Try to nap when the baby naps.
à Stop putting pressure on yourself to do everything. Do as much as you can and leave the rest!
à Ask for help with household chores and nighttime feedings. Ask your husband or partner to bring the baby to you so you can breastfeed. If you can, have a friend, family member, or professional support person help you in the home for part of the day.
à Talk to your husband, partner, family, and friends about how you are feeling.
à Do not spend a lot of time alone. Get dressed and leave the house. Run an errand or take a short walk.
à Spend time alone with your husband or partner.
à Talk with other mothers, so you can learn from their experiences.
à Join a support group for women with depression. Call a local hotline or look in your telephone book for information and services.
à Don’t make any major life changes during pregnancy. Major changes can cause unneeded stress. Sometimes big changes cannot be avoided. When that happens, try to arrange support and help in your new situation ahead of time.
How is depression treated?
There are two common types of treatment for depression.
Talk therapy. This involves talking to a psychologist to learn to change how depression makes you think, feel, and act.
Medicine. Psychiatrists can give you an antidepressant medicine to help you. These medicines can help relieve the symptoms of depression.
Pregnancy and postpartum depression are treatable with skilled professional help and support. Working with a therapist can help you feel like yourself again.