Sleep deprivation, hormonal swings, and the stress and pressure of caring for a newborn, can cause even the most prepared and even-tempered mom to experience anxiety and tearfulness. But how can new moms recognize the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression?
Here to provide expert guidance, is Dr. Shoshana Bennett, a clinical psychologist and maternal mental health expert who has firsthand knowledge of postpartum depression having experienced it twice herself. Dr. Bennett founded Postpartum Assistance for Mothers and served as the president of Postpartum Support International. She is also an author, the creator of a new mobile app called PPD Gone, the host of her own radio show, and an executive producer of “Dark Side of the Full Moon,” a forthcoming documentary about maternal mental health in the U.S.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most frequent complication of childbirth. One in 8 mothers are affected with this illness, which means 1.3 million moms per year in the United States alone. PPD is not a woman’s issue – it’s a public health issue affecting everyone – marriages, children, friends, extended family and workmates. The great news is that with proper help, PPD is nothing to be afraid of and is completely treatable.
1. Baby Blues Is Not PPD
There are two main ways to differentiate between the normal Baby Blues and the disorder of PPD: severity and duration.
Fifty to 80% of mothers experience the mild symptoms of Baby Blues such as weepiness, and feelings of dependency and vulnerability. They are transient, typically beginning on the second or third day after delivery, and they are gone by the end of the second week. Baby Blues generally do not require professional intervention. PPD can also begin soon after delivery and usually peaks by three months postpartum if not treated sooner, but this disorder can begin any time during the first year. Unlike Baby Blues, the symptoms of PPD are severe enough to disrupt the mom’s normal functioning.
2. Myths and Fantasies About Motherhood
When moms buy into these common myths, they become more susceptible to PPD. Unrealistic expectations can set mothers up to feel inadequate, as if they don’t “measure up.” Some of the most damaging are:
a). I shouldn’t need breaks. If I love my baby enough, I should want to be with him/her 24/7. Taking breaks is essential for a mother’s mental health and the health of her family, since it can prevent burnout, depletion and depression.
b). It’s all about the baby now -- my needs shouldn’t matter. Getting lost in the shuffle of babydom is not good for anyone involved. Looking forward to her own pleasurable activities can prevent mom from feeling resentment, anxiety and depression.
c). Mothering is instinctual. If that were true, there wouldn’t be so many parenting books. And, figuring out the first baby may not help with the next.
d). This should be the happiest time in my life. Hopefully there’s joy, but when a baby first comes home, it’s boot camp. Most of the joyful times come later, after the huge initial adjustment.
3. Myths About PPD
a). Medication is always needed. If a woman needs medication to feel like herself again, then she should take it. But, often dispelling the myths of motherhood, and using good therapy, specific nutrition, exercise, support, and possibly alternative treatment modalities, work at least as well.
b). Women with PPD are dangerous to their babies. Moms with PPD often go to great lengths to protect their babies even from their depression. Postpartum psychosis, however, is dangerous for babies and fortunately it’s quite rare. Mothers with postpartum depression do not snap and become psychotic - these are separate illnesses.
c). There’s a certain personality type that gets postpartum depression. There are high risk factors, but no one is immune. All temperaments and personalities – including the happiest and most relaxed -- can be hit hard with PPD.
d). I’ll be ill for the rest of my life. PPD is an acute, temporary illness -- not a chronic condition. You can expect total wellness with the right help.
4. What To Watch For
a). Difficulty sleeping at night when her baby is sleeping
b). Big changes in appetite (usually loss of appetite)
c). Hopelessness and feeling like life is over
d). Low self-esteem (thoughts such as, “My baby doesn’t like me” or, “Anyone can do this better than I can.”)
e). Anger and short-temperedness
f). Feeling overwhelmed
g). Sadness, crying much of the day
h). Anxiety (more than minor worries)
5. Preventing PPD
Having a wellness strategy in advance is what all moms should have. A plan for getting sleep, breaks, excellent nutrition, and social support are some of the key elements. If a woman knows she’s high risk for PPD, she should connect with a therapist who specializes before or during pregnancy.
6. If You’re Suffering -- Things To Remember
You will recover. PPD is not your fault. You are not alone. No shame should be associated with postpartum depression – no more so than with gestational diabetes or any other common perinatal illness. Accept help of all kinds. Acknowledge and share what’s going on only with nonjudgmental people.
7. Reaching Out
PPD often does not go away by itself, so don’t try to tough it out. As with any other disorder, the quicker you find the right help, the better the prognosis. That’s the best gift you can give your entire family. Ideally you should work with a postpartum mood specialist. Contact a healthcare practitioner you trust and see if he or she has a referral for you, or check the following resources. Your mental health is too important to settle for just a good therapist. This is a specialty, and you deserve the best help.
Helpline: 800.944.4PPD (4773)
For more information and inspiration visit MariaShriver.com