After giving birth, many women experience a week or two of "baby blues," marked by mood swings, feelings of ambivalence toward motherhood, mild depression, and bouts of unexplainable crying. These blues may be a result of hormonal changes; of the way labor, delivery, and motherhood are treated in today's society; or of the isolation new mothers often feel. Certainly lack of sleep plays a role, too.
But in some women -- as many as 11 to 15 percent of new mothers, according various sources -- the baby blues turns into clinical postpartum depression, or PPD. In an even smaller number of women, this can become a major psychological disturbance, called postpartum psychosis.
Are You Depressed?
If you have three or more of these symptoms, you may have PPD:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Loss of weight and/or appetite, or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that don't respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain
How to Handle PPD
If you feel that you can't cope, talk to your doctor. You may need some counseling, medication, or both. Antidepressant medications, some of which are safe for breastfeeding women, may be helpful. Don't be embarrassed to seek help -- it's both widely available and effective.
Here are some tips on how to manage a struggle with PPD:
- Set realistic goals, and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility -- let your family and friends help you.
- Break large tasks into small ones, set priorities, and do what you can, as you can.
- Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it's usually better than being alone and secretive.
- Participate in activities that may make you feel better.
- Exercise regularly -- even if it's just going for a walk. Studies have shown that mild, regular exercise can regulate mood.
- Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Remember, people rarely "snap out of" a depression. Feeling better takes time.
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
Reviewed 11/02 by Elizabeth Stein, CNM
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.