It’s a couple of days after giving birth and the baby you’ve been excited to meet for months is finally in your arms. But you don’t feel as joyful as you did right after delivery. Now you’re wondering: “Why do I feel so blue?”
First of all, don’t beat yourself up. Keep in mind that newborns need care around the clock. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and tired at times. In fact, two or three days after childbirth, many new moms start feeling down, upset and anxious. There are other signs of these “baby blues,” too. These may include:
- Crying for no reason
- Having trouble eating, sleeping and making choices
- Questioning whether you can care for your baby
The baby blues usually come and go in the first few days after your baby’s born. You’ll normally start feeling better after 3 to 5 days without treatment.
Postpartum depression and baby blues are not the same
The time after giving birth is called “postpartum.” As described above, many women get the baby blues and for a few days they feel sad or empty after giving birth.
With postpartum depression, however, the sadness, hopelessness or emptiness stay with the new mom for longer than two weeks. It’s a serious medical illness that affects how new moms feel and behave. With postpartum depression, those sad or empty feelings don’t go away. In fact, they get in the way of your day-to-day life and cause you to feel disconnected from your baby. You may even feel like you don’t love or care for your baby. Postpartum depression can be mild or severe.
Signs of postpartum depression
Just as your body changed before and after pregnancy, you may have some normal changes to your emotions when your new baby comes home. That includes symptoms that are similar to the baby blues. But if these signs last for longer than two weeks, it’s time to seek help:
- Becoming withdrawn from family and friends
- Feeling disconnected from the baby or feeling as if it’s not your baby
- Feeling moody or restless
- Having physical problems such as headaches, stomach problems or aches and pains that don’t go away
- Having problems with your memory
- Having thoughts of hurting the baby or yourself
- Having trouble getting focused or making decisions
- Losing interest or pleasure in the things you used to enjoy doing
- Not eating enough or too much
- Not feeling motivated or energized
- Not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much
Common causes of postpartum depression
New moms may be at a greater risk for postpartum depression if they have a personal or family history of depression. Or they may be at risk if they battled postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy. Other causes of depression include:
Hormone changes. Sometimes changes in your hormones trigger symptoms of postpartum depression. These are female hormones called estrogen and progesterone, and when you’re pregnant these hormones are at the highest levels they’ll ever be. Then 24 hours after giving birth, these hormone levels quickly drop back to the levels they were before you got pregnant.
Research suggests that the sudden drop in hormone levels may cause depression. Think of it in the same way your hormones change with your period. Only these swings in hormone levels are much more extreme because of pregnancy and post-delivery.
Thyroid issues. Thyroid hormones may also drop after childbirth and contribute to symptoms of depression. The thyroid gland is in the neck and helps your body use and store energy from food. If the hormones in your thyroid are too low, they can cause signs of depression. Your doctor can give you a blood test and see if this problem is causing the depression. Then your doctor can prescribe medicine.
Your feelings. These may also add to symptoms of depression — and they’re as valid as any other reason. You may be:
- Exhausted from lack of sleep
- Overwhelmed with the new baby’s needs
- Stressed from changes to your job situation
- Struggling with not being the perfect mom you think you should be
- Tired after labor and delivery
These and other feelings may add to postpartum depression — and they must not be ignored. If you continue to have these feelings for longer than two weeks, please call your doctor.
Common treatments for postpartum depression
Being depressed affects you and can affect your baby. That’s why treatment is so important.
Your doctor can help you decide on the best way to treat postpartum depression, which may involve therapy or medicine or both.
- Different types of medicines can help treat postpartum depression. Your doctor must prescribe them all and it may take several weeks for them to start working. The most common type of medicine, antidepressants, can help relieve depression symptoms and some of them may even be taken while you’re breastfeeding.
- This treatment method involves talking to a counselor, therapist or social worker. You’ll learn how to change the way the depression makes you feel, think and act.
Postpartum depression is serious — and you don’t have to suffer
Postpartum depression is a real illness, and any mother can suffer from it. It doesn’t matter what your age, income, culture, education or race. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s something to get help for — without guilt or shame and without feeling like you’re a bad mom.
In fact, getting help for postpartum depression is a sign that you’re a good mom who wants to take the best care of her baby.
If you feel like you’re dealing with more than baby blues and are struggling with postpartum depression, don’t wait. Call your doctor right away.
For more resources to help you in your new-mom journey, visit Methodist Children’s Hospital.