Coping with Postpartum Depression

If you're feeling anxious or sad after baby, it could just be the "baby blues," but 10 to 20 percent of new moms experience postpartum depression. Learn about the symptoms of PPD and how it can be treated. 
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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. In some women, as many as 10-20 percents of new mothers, 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.

What is Postpartum Depression?

While the baby blues can last from a few days to a few weeks and can include symptoms such as crying spells, anxiety, inability to sleep, and quick fluctuations in mood, PPD lingers for much longer and rarely seems to lift. Joel Evans, M.D., coauthor of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook (Gotham), explains that if you experienced depression during your pregnancy or have suffered from PPD after previous pregnancies, you may be at increased risk for PPD.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

How do you know if you are experiencing baby blues or PPD? Symptoms of PPD linger and are generally more intense than symptoms of baby blues. Postpartum depression symptoms are different for everyone and no two mothers experience exactly the same thing. If you recognize any three of the following symptoms, you may have PPD and should consult a physician. You may need counseling, medication, or both. Antidepressant medications are effective in treating symptoms associated with PPD and many are safe breastfeeding women.

  • 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
  • Related: Ways to Prevent Postpartum Depression

How to Treat PPD

Treatment for postpartum depression may consist of antidepressant and/or antianxiety medicines, talk therapy, support groups, or other behavioral modification like cognitive behavioral therapy. If you are diagnosed or even suspect you may have PPD, there are things you can do to cope with your symptoms and make them more manageable: 

  • 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.
  • Related: Watch: Easy Exercises For New Moms
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Remember, people rarely "snap out of" a depression. Feeling better takes time.

Amanda, mom to a 5-year-old son and a 2-1/2-year-old daughter, was overwhelmed and unable to settle in after the birth of her daughter. After seeking help, she was able to overcome her postpartum depression. Learn more about her story.

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