I was at high risk for postpartum depression, so when my son was about six weeks old, I expressed my relief that I hadn’t felt anything beyond your basic baby blues. My older sister, who is a medical doctor, pulled me aside and told me I shouldn’t celebrate just yet. Despite the moniker, she informed me, new moms may not see symptoms of postpartum depression until up to six months after they give birth. Six months!
Like many mothers, I assumed that I was in the clear after those first several weeks. But postpartum depression may not surface until months after your baby is born, so you need to recognize the signs. They vary widely from person to person, and you may experience more than one of the following symptoms:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Excessive crying or crying for no apparent reason
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Mood swings and irritability
- Feelings of doubt about your ability to care for your baby
- Physical aches and pains, including headaches, stomachaches, and muscle pain
Judging by this list of symptoms, you’d think every new mother has postpartum depression. Your appetite changes when you’re no longer pregnant; those late-night feedings make for some pretty strange sleep patterns; and what new mom doesn’t worry that she won’t be a good mother? First-time moms may find it especially difficult to determine if what they are feeling is “normal” or not. If your symptoms are persistent – that is, lasting two weeks or more – or are interfering with your daily life, then you should talk to your health care professional about how you’re feeling.
Although I was surprised to learn that postpartum depression may not manifest until several months after the baby is born, it made sense on further reflection. Think about it: those first few weeks are exciting, and you likely have lots of visitors passing through to ooh and aah over the baby and to help you take care of your home and yourself. Your newborn sleeps for most of the day, and the whole experience still feels new and exciting.
Now fast-forward three or four months. Your infant spends a lot more time awake – and, unfortunately, so do you. Maybe you haven’t slept for more than three consecutive hours in several weeks. You’re exhausted from nursing, and your post-baby body isn’t quite what you’d hoped it would be at this point. Perhaps your newborn is colicky, or teething, or will only be soothed if you hop on one foot and sing The Wheels on the Bus. Your house hasn’t been cleaned in weeks, you’re living on microwave dinners, and those helpful relatives have long since left the building. Is it any wonder that you might be feeling a bit depressed?
Whether it’s postpartum depression, depression, or the baby blues, you don’t have to suffer in silence. If you’re feeling down, don’t worry about labeling your symptoms. Instead, focus on how you can alleviate them. The best way to get help when you’re feeling sad, depressed, and overwhelmed is to simply ask for it. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling. Ask your parents or in-laws to come down for a visit. Hire a babysitter. Get a massage. Take some time for yourself, and don’t apologize for it.
Therapy is a wonderful option, and it’s not a life sentence. Your doctor may put you on medication; this is not a life sentence, either. New motherhood is hard, and I’ve known precious few moms who have made it through those first six months without at least a few tears. Even if you don’t feel like your symptoms warrant a diagnosis of depression, a therapist can work with you to find coping strategies and ways to communicate your feelings to your partner.
You are not alone. At Baby+Company, our care extends beyond labor and delivery, and past those first few weeks at home with your newborn. We are a community of mothers and care providers, and we are always there for our clients. We love to see the babies we’ve delivered as they get older, and offer support and guidance to moms throughout this crazy parenting journey. There are dozens of resources out there for mothers who are feeling overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to reach out.