Postpartum Emotionsby Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D.

 

Well-meaning friends and family members often tell the women things like, "Think about everything you have to feel happy about." These statements actually make the depression worse.

The Baby Blues are an extremely common but mild reaction to childbirth, experienced by about 85% of new mothers. Symptoms begin during the first few days after delivery and include:

  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Irritability
  • Feeling stressed
  • Feeling overwhelmed

These feelings are confusing and unpleasant, but usually resolve within two weeks, and always by six weeks postpartum. If these feelings continue past six weeks, it is called postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is experienced by about 15% of new mothers. It may develop in days, weeks, or months after delivery - the onset can occur up to one year postpartum. Unlike Baby Blues, postpartum depression often does not resolve on its own. Treatment includes support, education, counseling, and sometimes medication. Postpartum depression is more likely to occur in women who have a personal or family history of anxiety or depression. It is characterized often by these symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Sleeping problems
  • postpartum depression and anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Frequent crying
  • Low self esteem
  • Irritability
  • Emotional distance from partner and/or baby
  • Mood swings
  • Hopelessness
  • Appetite problems
  • Guilt feelings
  • Forgetfulness
  • Overwhelmed feelings
  • Decreased sex drive

Postpartum depression occurs at varying severity levels, but it always feels devastating. Unfortunately, well-meaning friends and family members often tell the women things like, "Pull yourself together," "Snap out of it," "Think about everything you have to feel happy about." These statements not only do not help her feel better they actually make the depression worse.

Postpartum psychosis occurs after one to three per thousand births. It usually begins in the first few days after delivery. Symptoms include:

  • Extreme agitation or hyperactivity
  • Incoherent statements
  • Hallucinations
  • Losing touch with reality
  • Delirium or mania

There are other postpartum conditions not mentioned here, such as panic and obsessive-compulsive feelings. It is most important to know that no matter what a woman is experiencing, there are resources to help and support her. No new mother should have to suffer silently or alone. When these conditions are diagnosed and treated early it makes a tremendous difference in the lives of new mothers and their families.

We have known for years that by giving women prenatal screenings and necessary individualized information, we can minimize and sometimes completely prevent a postpartum depression. Nevertheless, many hospitals and OB/GYN offices have not helped families in this way.

It is just as important for couples to know what is normal as it is for them to know the signs of postpartum depression. Having solid information so that expectant moms and dads will have realistic expectations is crucial. Understanding the factors we are in control of, as well as those we are not in control of, can make such a difference in our mental and emotional health.

For the past 13 years, and after enduring two undiagnosed postpartum depressions, I have worked with women experiencing postpartum emotional difficulties. I am the founder and Director of Postpartum Assistance for Mothers and the president of Postpartum Health Alliance of California.

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