The image of a serene, blissful, easily adjusted and flawlessly put together mother is a myth. The reality is most new moms feel anxious, weary and overwhelmed, and all with good reason: childbirth and caring for a tiny human is a massive deal and can trigger some massive and lasting emotions.
On average, about 80% of moms get the baby blues , while 20% experience a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) which includes depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some moms experience one type of disorder while others experience a combination.
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 pretty quickly, but PPMDs lasts longer and affects your ability to function (eat, sleep, care for your child/yourself, etc.). The most severe (and rare) mood disorder is postpartum psychosis, which involves losing touch with reality, hallucinations, and extreme/irrational thoughts and fears.
Left untreated, mood disorders can hijack her ability to enjoy motherhood and life as a whole, so stay aware of how she's feeling and know the difference between the blues and PPMDs. It’s also important to understand the difference, because you're her first line of support and with so many emotional and physical changes happening, it’s often easier for the person closest to us to spot something is wrong.
"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."
- Veteran Mom
Understanding Postpartum Mood Disorders (3:00)
Moms often suffer in silence because guilt, shame and fear make it difficult to express what’s really going on, but if she doesn't talk about it she can’t get the support she need. Talk to your partner, talk to other moms you trust, talk to your doctor at checkups (no sugarcoating it): keep talking!
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This is huge. If help is offered from family, friends, your church, community, wherever—say YES! Having help lightens her load, allows you both to 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.
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We all know sleep deprivation is an actual form of torture, so it’s no shock that getting no sleep is a major concern. Our entire mind-body system depends on sleep to stay healthy, balanced and functioning (sleep-deprived driving is akin to drunk driving, for real). But with around the clock baby care, it’s hard to get a good stretch of sleep—what to do? We say make sleep a priority and remember the following:
- Limit caffeine
- Switch off electronic devices an hour before bed
- Get sunshine during the day and keep the lights dim at night
- Take a night (bottle) feeding so she can sleep through
- If it’s too noisy to sleep, try a different room, earplugs or white noise
- Sleep when Baby sleeps (the dishes can wait!)
This study showed that:“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—even small amounts of exercise—will help reduce stress and anxiety and allow her to get higher quality sleep
During and after pregnancy, her body goes through major shifts and some women discover their thyroid and adrenal glands have gone off-track. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Postpartum thyroiditis often lasts several weeks to several months. However, postpartum thyroiditis 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 treated.
"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 am 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
“There is no doubt that new motherhood is overwhelming and scary for most of us, but when these feelings take charge—when they become more dominant than feelings of relative well-being—there is something else going on.” — PostpartumProgress.com
“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.” - Veteran Mom
"I had a really strong case of baby blues...My husband was really helpful. He was trying to be aware of how I was coping and relating to the baby and him and looking for signs...And we agreed that we would talk about it every day until I was good enough. I think it could have evolved into PPD if we hadn’t talked about it and checked in." - Veteran Mom
"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." - Veteran Mom
Postpartum Mood Disorders: Depression/Anxiety/OCD
80% of new moms.
Up to 20% of new mothers develop postpartum mood disorders.
Usually between birth and four weeks.
Usually between birth and one year after childbirth.
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.
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.
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
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.”
"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." - Veteran Mom
"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 months. I definitely had the baby blues. Thankfully I had my spouse to support me." - Veteran Mom
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