Postpartum Depression: The Facts

Roughly 60-80% of new mothers experience the baby blues, which typically lasts for a couple of weeks after delivery. But for some new mothers, these symptoms don’t go away or they worsen. Early warning signs of Postpartum Depression include, but are not limited to the following:

– excessive worry or anxiety
– irritability
– feeling overwhelmed
– feeling sad
– feeling guilty
– hopelessness
– difficulty sleeping
– excessive fatigue
– feeling uneasy
– indifference toward baby
– loss of concentration
– loss of interest
– feeling isolated or alone
– changes in appetite

Postpartum depression, or PPD, affects 15-20% of new mothers and can begin gradually or very suddenly at any point during the first year after a woman has given birth. Women who have experienced depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder before or during pregnancy, and women who have experienced a traumatic labor and delivery are at a higher risk for developing PPD. Other risk factors can include health problems for mother or baby, trouble nursing, any type of major life transition (like a move just before or after delivery), relationship difficulties, financial strain, or lack of social support.

Postpartum depression can feel very scary and overwhelming and many women feel a tremendous amount of guilt for having their feelings, especially if infertility has been an issue. In addition, women find themselves holding onto the image of “the perfect new mother” or what it will be like when the baby arrives and when their feelings do not align with these images, it perpetuates their sense of shame and isolation. There is no doubt that women feel more pressure now than ever before to bounce back after having a baby. In the past, women had large support systems around them, helping them ease into motherhood. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters all rallied around to care for the new mother and baby. Women did not feel so alone transitioning into motherhood because they simply were not so alone.

Women may shy away from seeking help because they fear they will be judged harshly, that no one will understand what they are experiencing, or that their child will be taken from them. In addition, often women experience anxious or compulsive symptoms such as panic attacks, insomnia or racing thoughts, but do not realize those symptoms are associated with postpartum depression, and therefore, may be less inclined to reach out for help.

PPD affects everyone in the family, including the baby, so it is essential that women get help. Fortunately, PPD has steadily gained attention and it is something that most doctors take very seriously. However, they cannot help if they do not know what their patient is experiencing, which is why it is imperative that women know the symptoms associated with PPD. It is also important for women to be their own advocates, speaking up loudly if something is wrong and they need attention. Women should not allow themselves to be brushed aside or dismissed. They need to speak up or speak to someone else; this is not a time to be shy. There are safe medications to take while breastfeeding and women must consider the benefits and risks associated with each medication with their doctors. The great news is that women tend respond well once they are treated for PPD, which is why it is all the more important to get help and relief as quickly as possible.

Avery Neal, PhD is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. She specializes in depression and anxiety at all stages in a woman’s life.

Dr. Neal is the author of, If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse, which has been translated and published in twelve languages. Her articles and interviews have been published by, American Counseling Association, Counseling Today, BookTrib, Best Self Magazine, Hitched Magazine, Bustle, POPSUGAR and PKWY Magazine, and her courses have been taken by over 18,000 people worldwide. The International Association of HealthCare Professionals nominated her as one of the top psychologists in Houston.