Whether you're becoming a mom for the first time or the fourth, the days and weeks after your baby's birth can be as overwhelming as they are joyful and exciting.
Many women have feelings of sadness after childbirth, ranging from brief, mild baby blues to the longer-lasting, deeper depression known as postpartum depression.
Feelings of sadness and depression are more common after childbirth than many people realize. It's important for new mothers – and those who love them – to understand the symptoms of postpartum depression and to reach out to family, friends and medical professionals for help.
What are the baby blues?
Most new moms experience the baby blues, feelings of sadness and worry that begin in the first days after childbirth. With the baby blues, a woman might feel happy one minute and tearful or overwhelmed the next. Baby blues usually last only a few days or a week or two.
Why it happens
These mood changes are believed to be a natural effect of the hormone shifts that happen with pregnancy and childbirth. The hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels within a week or so. As they do, baby blues usually get better without medical treatment.
What to do
Rest, nutrition and support are quite important because being exhausted, sleep deprived or feeling stressed can make feelings of sadness and depression worse.
To cope with baby blues, new moms should accept help in the first days and weeks after giving birth. Let family and friends help with errands, grocery shopping, household chores and child care. Talking to people close to you, or to other new mothers, can help you feel supported and remind you that you're not alone.
When to call the doctor
If baby blues linger longer than a week or two, talk to your doctor and discuss whether postpartum depression may be the cause of your emotional lows.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression can start shortly before birth or any time up to 12 months after birth.
A woman with postpartum depression may feel sad, tearful, anxious, cranky, discouraged, hopeless, worthless or alone. She also may:
- have trouble concentrating or completing routine tasks
- lose her appetite or interest in food
- feel like she is not a good mother
- lack interest in her baby or feel anxious about the baby's health
- feel hopeless or overwhelmed by her situation
Feelings and thoughts like these are painful for a woman – especially during a time that is supposed to be happy. Many women are reluctant to tell someone when they feel this way, but postpartum depression is a medical condition that requires attention and treatment.
Why it happens
Like baby blues, postpartum depression is thought to be related to the hormone changes that happen during and after birth. These rapid hormone shifts can lead to sadness, anxiety and depression that’s more severe and lasts longer than baby blues.
Postpartum depression can affect any woman – but some may be more at risk for developing it. Women who have a personal or family history of depression (including postpartum depression with a previous pregnancy) are more likely to experience postpartum depression.
Other things that might increase the chance of postpartum depression include serious stress during pregnancy, medical problems during or after pregnancy and lack of support at home.
When to call the doctor
A new mother needs to tell her doctor right away if she feels like giving up, feels like life is not worth living or has thoughts of hurting herself or her child.
Postpartum depression can last several months, or even longer if it not treated. With treatment, a woman can feel like herself again. Treatment may include talk therapy, medication or both. In addition, eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and rest and finding social support can be very helpful.
How can I get help?
Tell your doctor if you're having trouble with postpartum moods, thoughts or feelings. Let someone else know, too. This might be your partner, a friend or a family member.
Besides getting treatment for postpartum depression, you might find it helpful to:
- Take time for yourself
- Read something uplifting
- Be with others
- Ask for help
- Get moving
- Join a support group
How can I help someone with postpartum depression?
If you're concerned that your partner or someone close to you has postpartum depression, it's important to encourage her to talk to her doctor and a mental health professional. Sometimes a woman is reluctant to seek help or may not recognize her symptoms right away.
Consider giving the new mom some information on postpartum depression, and offer to read through it together. You can also offer to make an appointment for her and go with, if she wants.
Once she's receiving the care she needs, here are a few things you can continue do for her:
- Check in regularly to see how she's doing
- Listen when she wants to talk
- Go for a walk together
- Make her a nutritious meal
- Give her a break from housework and childcare responsibilities
- Let her take a nap or relaxing bath while you care for the baby
- Be patient and kind
- Believe in her and remind her of her true qualities and strengths
Like all forms of depression, postpartum depression creates a cloud of negative feelings and thoughts over a woman's view of herself, those around her, her situation and the future.
With the right treatment and support, the cloud can be lifted. This can free a woman to feel like herself again and regain her perspective, strength, energy, joy and hope. With those things in place, it's easier to work through changes, see solutions to life's challenges and enjoy life's pleasures again.