Postpartum Mood Disorders & Baby Blues

 "I think what I experienced was you just feel the ups and downs. You have this baby and it's so exciting and brand new, but then you feel like: Can I really do this? So you just go through a lot of emotions, but it's normal and after a few weeks it gets better." - New Mom

Postpartum Mood Disorders & Baby Blues

 "I think what I experienced was you just feel the ups and downs. You have this baby and it's so exciting and brand new, but then you feel like: Can I really do this? So you just go through a lot of emotions, but it's normal and after a few weeks it gets better." - Veteran Mom

Baby Blues or Mood Disorder?

The image of a serene, blissful, and perfect looking mother is just that: an image. It's not reality. The reality is most new moms are walking around feeling worn-out and overwhelmed, and with good reason: Childbirth, postpartum hormones, and being responsible for keeping a tiny human alive is a lot to manage. 

On average, 80% of new moms get the baby blues while 20% experience a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) (depression, anxiety, OCD), and some moms experience one type of disorder while others experience a combination of them: everyone’s chemistry is different. 

“Just know that the baby blues will come. They will come, they will happen, embrace them. Your partner will help and support you…”

-  New Mom

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While the baby blues and PPMDs share overlapping symptoms (mood swings, crying, anxiousness, irritability), they’re very different beasts. The biggest difference is the baby blues come and go, but PPMDs last longer and have a much bigger impact on your ability to function, mentally and physically. The most severe (and rare) mood disorder is postpartum psychosis, which can involve losing touch with reality, hallucinations, irrational thinking, and extreme thoughts and fears. 

Left untreated, mood disorders can hijack your ability to enjoy motherhood and life, and knowing the difference between the blues and PPMDs will help you and Dad understand what’s going on. It’s also important for your partner to know the signs, because we’re going through so much as a new mom that it’s often easier for those close to us to spot when something’s not right. 

"I didn’t think I would be balling my eyes out. It happens when you least expect it. I think everybody cries the first couple of months. I definitely had the baby blues. Thankfully I had my spouse to support me."

- New Mom

"We had a lot of family from Mexico and when they all left, the fact that I didn’t have anyone to hold him for five minutes or anyone to talk to...the isolation was a big factor with my baby blues."

- New Mom

What You Can Do

TALK ABOUT IT
Moms often suffer in silence because guilt, shame, and fear make it difficult to admit what’s really going on. But if you don’t talk about it, you can’t get the support you need. Talk to your partner, talk to family members or moms you trust, talk to your doctor at checkups and don’t sugarcoat it—this is a normal part of motherhood and you’re not alone. 

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ACCEPT HELP
This is huge. If help is offered from family, friends, your church, community, wherever—YES! Having help lightens your load, allows you to get some rest, and keeps you from feeling overwhelmed. And this study revealed that moms who felt supported were less prone to depression: The more support you line up, the better.  

"You have a lot of doctor appointments those first few weeks and you're not really good at getting out of the house or putting your life together during that time. So having your significant other or a friend or family member go with you is super helpful—just having another set of hands and the company."  — Veteran Mom

 

SLEEP
We all know sleep deprivation is an actual form of torture so it’s no shock that it’s a major concern. Our entire mind-body system depends on sleep to stay healthy, balanced, and functioning (sleep-deprived driving is a whole lot like drunk driving). But it can be majorly hard to get a good stretch of sleep, so what to do? We say making sleep a priority is the first step, and remember the following: 

"I think I went into PPD a little bit because I was very sleep deprived...I know people say to sleep, but I felt guilty because I was like, 'I'm a new mom and I have to take care of him,’ but if I don’t take care of myself then I can’t take care of him. So for my second one, I’m going to try to sleep as much as I can. Even though I got that information, I didn’t really get it until I was going into PPD. So, try to sleep as much as you can—it really makes a difference."  — Veteran Mom

 

EAT RIGHT
Eating nutrient dense foods keeps your body in balance. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, your baby is requiring (and taking!) a lot from your body, so nourishing and replenishing it is critical. Also, try to limit sugar, which can definitely cause mood swings.  

READ! 5 Foods to Fight Postpartum Depression

 

MOVE YOUR BODY
This study showed: “Physical exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period is a safe strategy to achieve better psychological well‐being and to reduce postpartum depressive symptoms.” And it doesn’t have to be heavy-duty workouts; walking around the block, stretching, yoga, or swimming—any amount of exercise—will reduce stress and help you get more quality sleep. 

“You experience normal baby blues…one second I was fine, then I screaming for no reason, or breaking down sitting on my kitchen floor and crying. I’m like, this isn't normal; I think this is more than baby blues. So I went back to my midwife and said let’s try some non-prescription medication, so she prescribed more exercise, vitamin D, and fish oil.”  — Veteran Mom

 

SEE YOUR DOC
During and after pregnancy, your body goes through major shifts and some women find out their thyroid or adrenal glands have gone off-track. According to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum thyroid issues “…can be difficult to recognize because its symptoms are often mistakenly attributed to the stress of having a newborn and postpartum mood disorders.” When in doubt, see your doctor to rule out any imbalances that can be easily treated. 

Understanding Postpartum Mood Disorders (3:00)

"I think it's an area where it’s really important to have your partner or husband be informed and to have a conversation beforehand, because when you're in it you’re not going to be like, 'Oh, okay, I see I have depression so I’m going to call the doctor and get myself some help.' You need him to be there because he knows you. My husband had to step in and say, 'Okay, I think we need to look further into this.' And that also helped him to be involved.”

- New Mom

What Your Partner Can Do

  • Understand the signs. Reading the chart below will help Dad know the signs so he recognizes what you’re going through.
  • Write down your support people.Together, make a “Resource List” of people he can reach out to for support (friends, family, doctors) and keep the list handy. If he’s going out of town or working long hours, the list will help him figure out how to get you immediate support.
  • Be communicative, sensitive, and reassuring. If Dad sees or suspects you’re struggling—or if he’s not sure and just checking in—being sensitive and reassuring in communicating with you will ease your mind and make you confident he’s got your back.

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  • Agree to contact your doctor. Before the baby is born, make a pact that if Dad sees signs of a mood disorder (even if you don’t), you agree he can contact your doctor to make an appointment for you. No fighting or resisting him, and both of you will go as a precautionary measure.
  • Attend doctor/therapist appointments. Having your partner at doctor’s appointments or therapy keeps him in the loop and ensures you’re feeling supported. It also helps to have a second set of ears there for important information or instructions.
  • Make sure you’re getting downtime for self-care. Rest and recharging is massively important for mental and physical wellness. Whether it’s sleep, exercise, seeing friends—whatever self-care looks like for you—Dad can be responsible for baby care and help make that happen.
  • Lighten your “to-do” list so you’re not overwhelmed. Whatever takes things off your plate and lowers your stress level, excellent! Feeling overwhelmed is a big part of the blues, depression, and anxiety for new moms, so let Dad help lighten your load.

"I don’t think it was postpartum depression…I think it was just hard days. But my husband and I did talk about it a lot beforehand, and knowing that I had him as support made me more comfortable." - New Mom

“It’s powerful for dads to have the information so you can work as a team, because often you don’t know what’s going on. You can’t see your actions from the outside or how you’re acting differently.”

- New Mom

Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Mood Disorders

 

Baby Blues

Postpartum Mood Disorders: Depression/Anxiety/OCD 

How Often

80% of new moms. 

Up to 20% of new mothers develop postpartum mood disorders.

When

Usually between birth and four weeks.

Usually between birth and one year after childbirth.

Cause

Drop in hormone levels post-delivery heightened by being overly tired, going back to work, feeling inadequate as a mom, feeling trapped/isolated and problems bonding with the baby. 

This is a medical problem. The dramatic shift in hormones can leave new moms feeling fatigued, anxious, and overwhelmed. You’ll also experience a change in blood pressure, blood volume, and in your immune system. These physical changes and new lifestyle stressors can bring on PPMDs, and women with a personal or family history of a mental health disorder are at a higher risk.

Symptoms

Mood swings, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, crying, nervousness and general unhappiness.

Insomnia or sleeping too much, loss of appetite or overeating, nausea, lack of interest in activities, inability to concentrate, severe mood swings, lethargy or hyperactivity, feelings of helplessness, anxiety and panic attacks, obsessiveness, disorientation and confusion, excessive crying, intrusive/repeating thoughts, hopelessness or lack of control, inability to care for yourself or baby, loss of touch with reality.

Solution

After several weeks, a routine is established, your hormone levels stabilize and the baby blues usually disappear.

You need to see a medical professional and
work with him/her to tailor a treatment plan specifically
for you.

How Dad Can Help

Ask him to help lighten your load (then take the help you’re offered!). Ask him to listen and encourage you to talk about your frustrations. Let him watch the baby so you have time on your own to rest or recharge. Make sure he knows who to call if symptoms seem to worsen. 

Dad’s your first line of defense in recognizing the symptoms are lasting longer than they should. He needs to know it’s OK to be worried about you and to call your obstetrician/mental health provider. If you discuss this before the birth, it will be easier for him to take action if needed. He can also reach out to family and friends to help take care of the baby while you tackle this issue together and accompany you to your doctor/therapist appointments. 

What Moms Say

“Sometimes I would just cry. You’ve gone through something mentally, physically. It lasted about two weeks, and then I was just crazy (laughs).”

“A new mom shared that the first day her husband went back to work she had the baby blues, and when he came home, she was just sobbing and he said, ‘Wait right there.’ And he ran upstairs and got the Crash Course for Dads-to-Be book and went to the PPD page and said, ‘Do you…? No. Do you…? No. Do you…? Yes. OK—you have the baby blues. You may now continue crying.’”

“It was about six weeks long for me and the doctor said it was depression. She said, ‘I’m not concerned about your safety, but you’re depressed.’ And I think those words were what I had to hear. I just wasn’t myself. It was all surrounding breastfeeding. It was the guilt of being a failure. Logically, my husband would say, ‘You do what you can, but If you just need to quit, quit. It’s OK.’ I just couldn’t get out of bed. I was crying. Also, my husband didn’t have a job, so there was a lot of outside stress. I felt like the one thing I could control was breastfeeding and I couldn’t control that.”

Resources

Postpartum Support International
www.postpartum.net

Local Support Search
800-944-4PPD (4773)

PPD Moms
www.1800ppdmoms.org
1-800-PPD-MOMS

info@hopeline.com

The Mayo Clinic: Postpartum Depression
www.mayoclinic.org
Online PPMD Support

"While you’re pregnant, make a list of things that calm you down and feel good to you, so when you're in a moment where you're feeling overwhelmed or depressed, you have a list you can go to for things that make you feel better. For some people, it's a favorite song, a bath or shower, going for a walk or to the grocery store…If you have the knowledge and a plan then you can be flexible and make decisions in the moment as needed."  

New Mom

Rick & Kristin: Postpartum Depression (1:46)

Amanda: Postpartum Depression (:30)

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