Most new mothers will feel a version of the “baby blues” in the first few weeks after having a baby. It makes sense hormonally because of the vast amount of change in the woman’s body in a short period of time. Add to that the lack of sleep and other responsibilities of possibly taking care of other children and household duties, and getting “blue” seems rather normal.
But the The Office of Women’s Health, a government-sponsored program to promote health equity for women and girls, cautions that postpartum depression is more than just feeling down in the dumps but rather is a serious illness involving a woman’s brain.
She can feel sad, anxious, or empty and those feelings don’t go away or dissipate over time. It is estimated that 13 percent (more than one in ten mothers) will be diagnosed with depression during or after their pregnancies.
Many women expect to feel a certain way after having a child ... joy, happiness, love, and an instant connection with this tiny human being that has entered their life. They may be expecting too much.
It is physically tough to carry, birth, and care for a baby and mothers often don’t understand the toll it may take on them physically and mentally. Many women may be medically depressed but not actually know it. And since the stigma of depression is still ever-present, many women may not talk to others about their emotions because of feelings of shame and/or guilt.
The Office of Women’s Health describes the following symptoms of depression in mothers, and urges women who feel any of these symptoms for two weeks or more to contact their doctor.
Symptoms of depression:
• Feeling restless or moody and not sure why you feel that way
• Feeling sad, hopeless, and/or overwhelmed
• Crying a lot over things that logically you know don’t merit tears
• Lacking energy or motivation to do anything
• Eating too little or too much
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Not being able to focus on anything or making decisions
• Having memory problems
• Feeling worthless, hopeless and/or guilty
• Losing interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
• Withdrawing from friends and family, including the new baby
• Having unexplainable headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems that don't go away
The American Academy of Family Physicians reported a study in 1999 where postpartum depression was found in approximately one in ten women, but that it is considerably underdiagnosed. The report stated that “if left untreated, the disorder can have serious adverse effects on the mother and her relationship with significant others, and on the child's emotional and psychologic development.”
Though much has changed in the world in the last twelve years since this report came out, many women and their doctors still don’t see the signs of postpartum depression. The good news is that with some education, new mothers can become aware of the signs even prior to giving birth and can be reassured that with treatment and medication, postpartum depression can be managed.
Office of Women's Health. Web. 23, October 2011. "Fact sheet: Depression and Pregnancy".
Postpartum Major Depression: Detection and Treatment by C. Neill Epperson, M.D. - American Family Physician. April 15.1999.
Reviewed October 25, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith