Sad, mad, teary, frustrated—sound familiar? Find out what’s normal and when it’s time to give your doctor a call.
By Liz Krieger
The day your baby was born may rank up there with the happiest moments of your life, and it’s followed by more wonderful stuff: the rush of congratulations, well-wishers, and coos over the new baby. But what comes next can be surprising—and not always full of such joy. In fact, you may be starting to feel overwhelmed, uncertain, frustrated, anxious, angry, and regretful. Yeah—that’s right, we said it: regret! This is a safe space for you to feel all of your feelings, and one of those feelings might resemble, “What the hell have we done to our lives?!”
First thing’s first: If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, your baby, or others, call the 24-hour Suicide Lifeline right away, (800) 273-8255 or (800) 273-(TALK).
The tricky thing about postpartum mood disorders is that feeling down to some degree is normal, so it may be hard for you to know where the line is. Caring for an infant is often incredibly hard work. (And it can also be shockingly tedious.) Adjusting to the chaos a new baby brings to a household is difficult. The lack of sleep is sudden and can feel never-ending. Not to mention that there are massive hormonal shifts happening in your body after childbirth, which can significantly impact your mood. Having a baby is a huge life change, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if your feelings are just a normal part of the adjustment that will pass or something more serious, such as postpartum depression (PPD).
Here’s a primer on each—and remember, if you’re struggling, the best thing is always to check in with your doctor. While she can give you an evaluation to screen for mood issues, sometimes it’s hard to quantify exactly what you’re feeling, so it can be helpful to take some notes on your phone in the days leading up to your appointment about your highs and lows, so your doctor can see the range you’re feeling. She’s a resource who can connect you with help–from medication to a new parent support group at the hospital to a lactation consultant. Just remember to speak up and advocate for yourself if something doesn’t feel right.
The “Baby Blues”
Within the first week or two of delivery, a whopping 60-80 percent of moms develop the “Baby Blues”: feeling exhausted, weepy, irritable, angry, unable to sleep even when you have a chance, mood swings, or feelings of loss or frustration. That’s because sudden hormonal changes from delivery, plus stress and lack of sleep, in conjunction with the overwhelming shift in life circumstance can cause a temporary form of depression. If you are experiencing this, know that you are not alone! These periods are fairly short and don't last all day. While these symptoms are unpredictable and often unsettling, they typically don’t interfere with your ability to function. These blues typically pass by about two weeks postpartum, without any treatment.
Try to rest when you can and share your feelings with a partner or friend. The best tip we ever received was to observe these feelings like the weather: Acknowledge that it’s raining, but know that no storm lasts forever. The clouds will float on by.
If your emotional low doesn’t subside after two weeks–and especially if you have a history of any mood disorder, including anxiety–it’s time to consider the possibility of postpartum depression (PPD). Again, this is not uncommon. In fact, the CDC estimates that up to 1 in 5 new mothers experience various degrees of postpartum depression. While PPD appears within the first few weeks after childbirth, it can also begin just before your period returns, after weaning, or anytime in the first year. The symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Depressed or sad mood
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness or incompetence
- Sleep disturbances
- Change in appetite
- Poor concentration
- Suicidal thoughts
Remember, these are symptoms, not a statement about your desire or ability to be a good, loving mother. Good mothers still sometimes feel bad.
When to seek help: If your “baby blues” don’t go away after 2 weeks, if the symptoms of depression get more intense, if it becomes difficult to work or get things done at home, if you are struggling to care for yourself or your baby, or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, call your doctor, midwife, or pediatrician. There is no shame in getting professional help so you can be back to your best self–in fact, that’s far more crucial self-care than a pedicure could ever hope to be. If you don’t feel up to making the call, ask your partner or a loved one to call for you. Can’t find the right words to ask for help? Hand this article to a partner, friend, or family member and say these words: “I’m struggling right now under a fog and would like to discuss this with my doctor. Could you call my doctor and schedule me a mental health check up?”
If you haven’t spoken to your doctor about your mood before your standard six-week postpartum checkup, take a moment beforehand to evaluate how you’ve been feeling or write down the questions you may have in case you forget or feel at a loss for ways to describe what’s been going on. You may not even realize that you’re in fact in the grips of PPD, but your doctor can help you ID what’s going on. Jot down how you’re feeling every day for two weeks, so you can track the highs and lows of your mood and see the patterns over time.
Treatment with talk therapy and, in some situations, antidepressant medications, is remarkably effective. There’s no shame in getting the help you need to feel like yourself again.