With more and more information about postpartum depression readily available to new moms, will they take the time to read it?
When I was an expectant first time mom, I knew very little about postpartum depression. It was surprising because, as a researcher by nature, I wanted to know about every possible complication I could get. But I scoffed at the thought of getting postpartum depression. In my mind, mental illness was for the weak. And even if I did get it, I would never let it get the best of me – I was a strong, positive, confident person.
I horrifically underestimated the power of postpartum depression.
Ultimately, it did get the best of me and it’s a battle that I still fight to this very day. I sadly regret not taking the time to learn more about maternal mental health and postpartum depression 10 years ago when I had the chance. So now I urge all new mothers, expectant mothers, first, second, third time mothers, to read as much information about postpartum depression as they can find, even if you doubt that you’ll get it.
Here are some specific things that I wish I had known.
1. You don’t need to have a history of mental illness in order to get it.
One of the biggest misconceptions about postpartum depression is that it can only occur if you have a history of mental illness. But because there is no clear reason why women get postpartum depression, this is not a fact we can rely heavily on. This means that you could get postpartum depression even if you’ve never dealt with mental illness before and have no family history of it.
Another thing to take into consideration is the silent struggle of mental illness. It’s likely you DO have a family history of mental illness but it was never, ever spoken of. If we think the stigma of mental illness is an epidemic now, imagine what it was like 40 years ago, or more.
Ruling out postpartum depression based solely on the fact that you have no history of mental illness is not a guarantee that you will not get it.
2. You can get it even if you have zero risk factors.
Some of the risk factors for postpartum depression are:
- A personal history of mental illness (depression, anxiety, bi-polar)
- A family history of mental illness
- An unplanned pregnancy
- A difficult pregnancy
- An emotional experience with pregnancy or childbirth (infertility, miscarriage, premature labor, complications, special needs baby)
- A traumatic labor and delivery
- Childhood trauma
- A history of domestic violence or sexual abuse
- Stress (including financial or marital stress)
- Lack of a proper support system
- Difficulties caring for baby (postpartum complications, breastfeeding problems, colic, etc.)
The list is long but basically it says that if you experience anything other than a “perfect” journey into motherhood, you’re at risk of getting postpartum depression. So let’s take a long shot and say that everything, from the moment you conceived until your child’s first birthday, went exactly as you imagined and nothing terrible happened along the way…
You could still get it!
Again, no one knows exactly why women get postpartum depression. Some theories say it has to do with a shift in the hormones – which would mean the risk factors actually have nothing to do with it at all.
3. It is not always triggered by trauma.
Trauma is a recurring theme on the list of risk factors because it plays a huge role in mental illness. In fact, our first response when faced with postpartum depression is to think back to what traumatic experience could have caused this.
It’s important to know that trauma is not the only trigger of postpartum depression. Mental illness tends to prey on the weak, and we are often at our weakest shortly after experiencing a life changing event such as becoming a mother. Sleep deprivation, physical pain from labor, fears and anxiety and even the simple act of change can all trigger feelings of depression.
Cognitive behavior therapy is a great method to help figure out what is triggering the postpartum depression so that you can learn how to manage it.
4. It doesn’t necessarily start right after birth.
Making it through the first six weeks unscathed does not mean that you’re in the clear. Symptoms of postpartum depression can show up anytime within the first year after giving birth.
Some women experience the highest of highs after giving birth and can ride it out for months. This can make the drastic fall into postpartum depression that much more difficult.
Care for new mothers normally ends around six weeks postpartum. So it’s not uncommon for symptoms of postpartum depression to show up after this point, when all the help and attention suddenly comes to a grinding halt.
5. It’s likely you will experience some form of the baby blues.
It’s reported that 80% of new mothers suffer from the baby blues. The fact that it IS so common can actually make postpartum depression harder to diagnose because many women and medical professionals have trouble telling the two apart.
The rule of thumb is that if the symptoms don’t go away after a couple weeks, then it’s probably postpartum depression. This usually results in mothers being brushed off if they express any kind of concern about their mental health in the first few weeks postpartum.
While there’s no need to worry excessively that the baby blues will turn into something more – there are a few differences that you should keep an eye out for.
6. The most common symptoms are not the only ones.
When we think of the word “depression” we often associate it with sadness. But postpartum depression doesn’t always manifest as sadness. It usually manifests as a feeling of “nothingness.”
Feeling nothing, empty, or numb, is one of the most significant symptoms of postpartum depression because it’s what drives all the other symptoms. Being numb makes us feel fatigued and unable to do the most basic of tasks. We don’t want to go out anywhere or do anything. We don’t feel the urge to eat or sleep or laugh. We may not feel happy, but neither do we feel sad.
Postpartum depression can also cause a variety of different physical symptoms. Normally we don’t associate physical symptoms with mental illness and so we turn into hypochondriacs trying to find the cause of our physical pain.
7. It can show up as anxiety, or a combination of depression and anxiety.
Now here’s the real tricky part that always seems to confuse new mothers. Anxiety. When looking at a list of postpartum depression symptoms, the symptoms of anxiety and those of depression tend to be lumped together, making it even harder to know what it is you’re dealing with.
A new mother can experience anxiety in combination with postpartum depression, which means that all of that emptiness is replaced with a constant state of fear and worry. It’s the kind of worry that keeps you up at night. Things that never seemed to bother you much before now feel like the biggest threats. You imagine horrible scenarios in your head and do things to prevent them from happening, as far-fetched as they might seem.
Some new mothers deal with anxiety without the depression, in which case, they are not numb to all the normal emotions of motherhood but worry just the same. Anxiety is a dangerous mental health disorder that can open the door to intrusive thoughts, rage and obsessive compulsive disorder.
8. Your spouse or partner may be the first to notice that something is wrong.
The people who know you best will notice a change in you before you realize it yourself. They may not tell you that they notice it, depending on your relationship, but they’ll know. It’s kind of hard to live that closely with someone and not be able to spot that something just isn’t right.
Part of the responsibility of your spouse, partner, baby’s father, etc., is to help you through this postpartum period and recognizing the signs of postpartum depression falls into that category. Even if they don’t know exactly what’s wrong, they should speak up if they think you’re acting differently.
Know someone suffering from addiction due to postpartum depression? Here’s a list of resources for friends and family who want to help.
Try not to be offended or act defensively when someone you love says you might have postpartum depression. Approaching the subject of mental health is a hard task and the fact that they’ve said anything at all means they’re truly trying to help.
9. There is no shame in admitting that you have it.
Mental illness is so stigmatized that women who are suffering from a valid, medical, postpartum complication are afraid to tell anyone. They believe that battling a mental illness makes them look weak, when in fact, the opposite is true.
Warriors are working hard to end the stigma around maternal mental health, but until then, all we can do is educate others. The more people know about postpartum depression, the less shame there will be for those who carry the burden.
10. While there is no cure, it is treatable.
Once it’s triggered, postpartum depression lingers around like the annoying friend who’s overstayed their welcome. With treatment, and a little extra work, it is entirely manageable.
First off, mothers with postpartum depression need to proactively take care of themselves. They need to maintain their health and keep their stress level down. Mental illness thrives in a toxic environment, so it’s important to stay positive, eat right, sleep well and be mindful.
Secondly, a form of professional treatment is a must. This could be anti-depressant medication, cognitive behavior therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, or hypnosis, to name a few. There are treatment options that are all-natural and safe for breastfeeding, so that is not an excuse not to seek treatment.
11. The best place to get help is from someone who understands maternal mental health.
When we hear of stories like Jessica Porten and Andrea Yates, the thought of talking to someone about postpartum depression is terrifying. These women are being treated like criminals by supposed professionals. And the public reaction to their “crimes” is even more disturbing.
That’s why it’s important to seek help from someone that you trust, and someone who understands the reality of postpartum depression. A great place to start is Postpartum Support International. You can call a helpline to get all kinds of information and support.
If you’re looking for more hands on help, talk to a postpartum doula who are trained specifically to help new mothers and recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression in it’s earliest stages.
12. If left untreated, you will likely struggle with symptoms for the rest of your life.
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide in the world. Postpartum depression has claimed many lives and while it is a worst case scenario, it CAN happen to anyone.
Even if the symptoms go away for a while, there is always the risk of a relapse. The only way to stay on top of the symptoms and win the battle against postpartum depression is by sticking to a treatment plan.
13. It’s entirely possible that you may not get it all, but it’s better to be prepared.
I had three all-natural, drug free births, but that didn’t stop me from researching epidurals and c-sections. I was thankful that I didn’t have either of them but I wanted to be prepared in the event that I did.
So why is postpartum depression any different? It’s the most common complication of childbirth and yet no one seems to know anything about it.
There is no harm in researching postpartum depression prior to becoming a mother. My hope is that you don’t get it, because I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. But if you do, at least you’ll be prepared.
Two years ago, I published the post 9 Reasons Why Mothers Don’t Speak Up About Having Postpartum Depression and it quickly became extremely popular. It was even featured on Scary Mommy!
Mothers with postpartum depression began to reach out to me, stating that it spoke to them and they realized their reasons were not insane or unreasonable. These mothers also felt like they wanted to tell their story but didn’t know how or where to begin.
It inspired me to create a safe place for women to share their postpartum depression stories, without judgement, or requirements or any degree of difficulty.
Speaking up and sharing my own story and the stories of other women turned Running in Triangles into a beacon of light for those women who were lost and suffering in the darkness.
Over the past couple years, I’ve had the chance to connect and interact with so many women who have had or are currently suffering from postpartum depression and other maternal mental health disorders.
One thing that so many of them had in common was the fact that they stayed silent for so much longer than they should have. And there are so many more than 9 reasons why these women chose not to speak up about what they were feeling…
Here is a list of over 50 reasons why mothers don’t speak up about postpartum depression.
1. We are in denial
2. We don’t even know we have it
3. We’re not 100% certain that we have it
4. We haven’t been officially diagnosed
5. We don’t think it’s as bad as it actually is
6. We just aren’t ready to admit it yet
7. We think this is “normal” motherhood
8. We don’t think it’s a big deal
9. We don’t want to make it seem like we’re suffering more than any other mother
10. We don’t want to be complainers or hypochondriacs
11. We think it’s just a bad case of the baby blues
12. We think we are exaggerating our symptoms
13. We are terrified of having our child taken away from us
14. We don’t want to scare our children
15. We’re worried no one will believe us
16. We don’t want to be considered dangerous
17. We think we will get locked up or sent away
18. We don’t want anyone to think that we are bad mothers
19. We are ashamed of ourselves
20. We think this is happening because of something we did wrong
21. We feel guilty
22. We are embarrassed that we can’t handle it
23. We hate confrontation
24. We know that if we start talking about it we will cry
25. We are concerned about what others will think of us
26. We know some people don’t believe mental illness is real
27. We don’t want to be treated like crazy people
28. We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around us
29. We don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us
30. We are afraid of someone saying insensitive things to us
31. We feel like failures
32. We think it’s a sign of weakness
33. We don’t want to be a burden
34. We are worried that our spouse might leave us
36. We don’t want to lose our job
37. We don’t want anything on our permanent record
38. We think we can cure ourselves
39. We think it will go away on its own
40. We think it might be in our head
41. We’re just planning to wait it out
42. We don’t think talking about it will help
43. We can always find an excuse for the symptoms
44. We don’t trust the medical system
45. We don’t know who to tell
46. We don’t want to be put on medication
47. We don’t think we will get the right kind of help
48. We don’t know what our treatment options are
49. We don’t want to be put on suicide watch
50. We feel alone
51. We don’t think anyone else will understand
52. We don’t know anyone else who has ever experienced something like this
53. We don’t know enough about it to defend ourselves
54. We can’t find the right words to say how we feel
55. We think we are the only person who has ever had these kinds of thoughts and feelings
Do you have a reason for staying silent that’s not on this list? Leave it in the comments!
I’ve given birth to three kids, experienced three similar pregnancies, labored through three natural, drug-free births, but ended up with three very different postpartum recovery periods…
What’s the difference between the baby blues vs. postpartum depression? It’s a question that many mothers have asked themselves because it’s hard to know for sure if you’re suffering from a maternal mental health disorder or not.
The baby blues is not an actual mental health disorder, but a common experience in the early days postpartum, however some women don’t experience it at all. Postpartum depression is often explained away as a bad case of the baby blues when, in reality, it’s much more serious.
To help end some of the confusion, here’s what it felt like first hand.
The Baby Blues
Shortly after the birth of my first child I experienced symptoms of what I believe were the common baby blues. They didn’t last long and they didn’t disrupt my life (much).
The mood swings were my first indicator. I remember watching my husband interact with the baby while our two dogs sat at his feet watching. I thought about how the dogs had no idea how much life was changing and I instantly burst into tears. I’m not usually a sensitive or emotional person so this was a sure sign to me that I was experiencing some type of hormonal imbalance. It was very similar to the mood swings I experienced during pregnancy. [Try tracking your moods with a printable mood tracker]
The sleep deprivation added to my emotional state. The way someone would feel after staying up partying all night long (which may or may not be a familiar feeling for me *wink wink*). I felt irritable and edgy but sleep, when I could get it, was welcome and helped to alleviate the stress. [Keep track of how much sleep you’re getting each night].
My brain was foggy and I was easily distracted. The “mom brain” was probably one of the hardest symptoms for me to manage as someone who prides themselves on having a great memory. Suddenly I couldn’t multi-task because I would forget what I was doing in the first place. I wrote down absolutely everything in a log book, significant or not, in a vain attempt to remember everything.
I felt an overwhelming urge to protect him and I worried a lot about everything he did. I worried about holding him too much, or not enough. I worried about the way others were holding him. I worried about his diaper being put on properly. I worried about such small and insignificant things (in addition to all the normal motherhood worrying like how much he was eating, pooping and sleeping). [Document your worries in a worry workbook]
I didn’t bond with the baby as much as I thought I would. I spent a lot of time talking to him but the lack of a response discouraged me. I wasn’t absolutely head over heels in love with him the way motherhood is portrayed in the media, but I didn’t feel anything negative either. I was just so tired and still adjusting to this new lifestyle.
We didn’t get out of the house much at first. I was extremely overprotective of him and convinced that he would contract bad germs from strangers. Aside from worrying, I honestly just didn’t feel like leaving the comfort of my own home.
It eventually went away on it’s own. Similar to a really bad case of PMS, I started to feel “normal” again. I didn’t cry at the mere thought of something sad and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and socialize. By the time he was 2 months old he was smiling, making eye contact and interacting and I did fall head over heels in love with him.
After the birth of my second child, things felt a little bit different. That first baby that I didn’t bond with? Well he was two years old now and the absolute center of my world. So for the first couple months, things were monotonous and scheduled and boring – as long as the baby was concerned, at least.
She had basic needs and I didn’t try too hard to bond with her. I figured it would happen eventually, so I didn’t put too much pressure on myself this time. The first two months after her birth were extremely busy in my social life so I didn’t have time to stew over the fact that life as I knew it had completely changed.
But when the dust settled and I was left at home, alone, with a toddler and a newborn who wouldn’t stop crying – things changed…
I was tired and emotional but this time I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried. Every time I closed my eyes I thought I heard the baby cry and got up to check on her. Sometimes it was 15 times in an hour but I couldn’t stop myself because I knew the one time I didn’t check on her would be the time something bad happened. If someone else offered to look after her while I took a nap, then I would lie in bed for 2 hours worrying if she was alright.
The mood swings were extreme and uncontrollable. As the weeks went on, I started to despise her. I blamed her for everything I was feeling. She felt my negative feelings and cried harder and longer which made me dislike her even more. But then I would think about how I’ve always wanted to have a daughter and I would suffocate her in love – until she started crying again. The slightest things could send me into fits of rage and I got offended and jealous very easily.
I was terrified to leave the house with her. I was certain she would cry and I wouldn’t be able to handle her and everyone would stare at me and think I was a horrible mother. So I stayed in my house where no one could judge me. I avoided contact with almost everyone.
And the worst part of all was that I lied about what I was feeling to everyone. I felt humiliated and inadequate and worthless but I hid it the best I could. I dressed the baby up in cute outfits and took cute pictures of her to post on social media. I posted captions about how much I loved having a baby girl and how all of my dreams had come true but in reality I just wanted to rewind life to a time before she existed.
The more I tried to “fix” things, the worse they got. Even when I tried to “snap out of it” the baby was still reacting to my negative energy and crying all day and night. My brain was full of terrible ways I could get her to shut up but instead I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for what seemed like hours. The guilt eventually built up huge walls that closed in on me. I even contemplated suicide.
For months I battled in silence, not knowing it was postpartum depression. I kept waiting for this funk to pass, waiting for the “hormones to regulate” but they never did, not without help, that is. Read more about my personal battle with postpartum depression here.
For more information about postpartum depression and other maternal mental health disorders, check out this comprehensive guide from Parenting Pod. If you need help with what you believe might be postpartum depression, you can speak to an online therapist from Better Help. Visit https://www.betterhelp.com/
No Postpartum Mood Disorder
Considering I went to hell and back with my last baby, I must have been absolutely crazy to have another one, right? The postpartum depression was forefront in my mind but this time I felt more prepared. I knew what to look for, and I knew that I needed to speak up if I felt something was even a little bit off.
The first time she was placed in my arms, I felt it. That immediate love that legends were made of. I couldn’t wait to hold her and I didn’t want to do anything else except just stare at her perfect face.
The early days with her were peaceful and calm – despite the sleepless nights. The other two children often played with each other and so I had her all to myself. The fact that she couldn’t talk back to me actually made me want to spend MORE time with her!
Trying to balance three children was definitely a challenge, and extremely overwhelming at times, but instead of being afraid and nervous and frustrated – I felt excited and determined to make the best of it!
I felt like I could control my mood. Even on days when she was extra fussy or I was extra tired, I always managed to stay calm and relaxed around her. I never felt a sad or negative thought about her. And she was a calm and relaxed baby because of it.
Initially I worried about how the older children would handle the new baby. But they never once showed any signs of jealousy towards her and completely welcomed her into our family. I cried more tears of joy in her first few months than I ever have in my life.
I worried about how much she ate, pooped and slept and whether she was hitting her milestones on time. Mostly because I was always comparing her to the other children. In an attempt to get things right this time, I asked a lot of questions, I sought a lot of help and I socialized as often as possible.
I took all three kids out as often as I could. It was next to impossible to manage all of them in public (and it still is) but I sure didn’t want to get stuck inside the house with them!
When it comes to the baby blues vs. postpartum depression vs. no postpartum mood disorder, I can’t say for certain what factors affected these different outcomes. It was only in hindsight that I was able to really identify the differences. But regardless of my three experiences, I feel the same kind of love for all three of my children. When I think about life with a newborn, I try my hardest to reflect on the happiness of my last one, but will never forget the darkness that came before.