How To Recognize The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

You anticipated basking in the bliss of motherhood—rocking a peaceful baby, proudly celebrating your baby with family and friends and deeply bonding with this little person. Instead you find yourself severely sleep deprived, perhaps sore from around the clock nursing and on an emotional rollercoaster that won’t stop.

Postpartum depression can feel like an offense to motherhood.

Did you know that 1 in 7 new mothers experience postpartum depression or anxiety within the first year after giving birth?  Within the first two weeks after birth it’s normal to feel sad and cry randomly throughout the day — a drastic hormonal shift in estrogen and progesterone causes these “baby blues.”   However, if you have been struggling with anxiety and sadness for several weeks then you may be in the midst of postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is not just having a few bad days.  You’ve felt this way for a while and your symptoms might be interfering with your ability to care for yourself and your baby.  Postpartum depression can feel crippling at times.  

You may not recognize signs of postpartum depression.  Or, you may feel too vulnerable and overwhelmed to ask for help. Consequently, you may face the bleakness of depression in silence and fear, which only perpetuates feeling isolated.

In order for you to feel better, however, you must first determine if what you’re experiencing is postpartum depression.

Symptoms of postpartum depression

These are some of the symptoms you may be experiencing:

  • You feel the extreme depths of sadness and cry throughout the day.  You cry for no apparent reason —while caring for your baby, while in the shower where you can be alone or while driving.
  • You're  overwhelmed and it feels like you just can’t get a grip on mothering.  It feels too hard. You can’t see how your new role as a mother will get easier. Sometimes you just feel paralyzed.
  • You feel worthless.  Perhaps you’ve thought about harming yourself or your baby.
  • It's difficult to sleep, even when you have opportunity to sleep.
  • You are irritable and angry —on fire angry!
  • You feel numb, nothing, just flat.
  • You’re having trouble bonding with your baby and may even resent him or her.
  • You can’t articulate your feelings, but you know that you just don’t feel like yourself.  You’ve lost interest in things.  At times you feel distant and hollow inside.
  • You feel deeply guilty for thinking that motherhood is not “magical.”  You might not like being a mother at all, or wish at times that you never had children.
  • You worry all the time and your mind spins out of control.
  • Sex is the last thing on your mind.

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is 10 question screening tool to help identify if you are at risk for postpartum depression.  You can take this quick questionnaire and share your answers with your healthcare provider to help start a discussion about healing.

Treatment for postpartum depression

Find a therapist. Interview several and work with someone you feel comfortable with —you’ll be more likely to be honest during sessions and respect their advice.  Your therapist may recommend an antidepressant to stabilize your mood.  LactMed is an excellent database for current guidelines on drugs during breastfeeding.

Exercise, coupled with other interventions such as therapy, medication or support groups, can help to elevate your mood and reduce anxiety.  Research shows that exercise increases the levels of serotonin and endorphins —vital for your mood, appetite, sleep and cognitive function.  Exercise can be a simple as taking your baby out for a walk.

Join a mothers' group to break the barrier of isolation. There can be a sense of calm and security in realizing that other women share similar parenting difficulties.  Motherwoman and It Takes A Village are excellent support groups among many here in Western Massachusetts.

Sleep! I know this is sometimes much easier said than done when you have a baby who won’t let you sleep.  My second son was, and still is at times, a tragic sleeper.  If you can, divide the night into shifts between you and your partner so that you can sleep for several hours uninterrupted.  Use earplugs or a sound machine if you are a light sleeper.  You may want to consider hiring an overnight doula to give you some relief.  Persistent sleep deprivation can be a direct cause of postpartum depression —it impacts your mood, ability to think and care for your family.

Good nutrition seems so simplistic, but skipping meals causes dips in your blood sugar levels that can cause fatigue, headaches, anxiety and changes in mood.  Avoid refined sugar, processed snacks and caffeine.  Instead, include protein in each meal.  Try to eat tryptophan-rich foods such as eggs, turkey, fish, beans and bananas to name a few.  This will help your body to produce serotonin—a key neurotransmitter that modulates mood.

Postpartum depression is serious.  I encourage you to reach out to family members, your midwife or OB.  Please know that there are people who genuinely care about your well-being and would like to help you.