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Looking at Postpartum Mood Disorder During Mental Health Awareness Month

woman looking sad in front of crib with postpartum depression

What is Postpartum Depression and How Can I Help?

By Courtney Hintze, RN, labor and delivery at Ascension NE Wisconsin - Mercy Campus
Originally published on 5/24/2021 at 2:00 p.m.

Throughout pregnancy, emotions are abundant. Joy, anxiety, hope and sadness are part of the ride and completely normal as hormones fluctuate throughout the process.

In most cases, the arrival of a new baby is considered one of the happiest moments in a person’s life. For some, however, that joy is overshadowed by intense feelings of sadness and disconnectedness for weeks after birth.

Postpartum mood disorders

Sadness following giving birth is just one symptom of a condition called a postpartum mood disorder. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, postpartum mood disorders affect one of every nine people after they have given birth.

The two main postpartum mood disorders are baby blues and postpartum depression.

The baby blues

Immediately following birth, hormones (estrogen and progesterone) go through a shift, leading to a fallout of emotions that can swing from euphoria to sadness. There are also new lifestyle pressures. Those first few weeks of a baby’s life can be a blur. While you are busy learning to care for and raise a new person who relies on you for everything, exhaustion can set in quickly, flooding you with waves of mood-altering hormones.

During this time, you might feel sad, anxious and overwhelmed. This is known as the baby blues and it’s normal for these swings to last about two weeks following pregnancy.

If the baby blues aren’t going away after a couple of weeks, however, it may be postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression

A person suffering from postpartum depression will experience sadness, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive-like tendencies and rage. They may also have trouble bonding with the baby. In severe cases, those suffering from postpartum depression may have thoughts of harming themselves or the baby.

If you think you are suffering from postpartum depression, it’s important to understand that this is not your fault. You did nothing to cause this, and you are not alone. With this in mind, the single most important thing to do if you believe yourself to be suffering from postpartum depression is to ask for help.

Your OB/GYN, primary care physician and even your baby’s pediatrician are all there for you. Getting help and finding the right treatment plan will get you back on track and enjoying your new baby and the first stages of your lives together. Alongside your care team, you will find the treatment plan that works best for you. It may include talk therapy, medications and/or group therapy.

When does postpartum depression appear?

Postpartum depression can show up at any point in the first year during that postpartum period. As both parents are going through a significant lifestyle change, it can happen to either.

If you’re a family member or significant other to a new parent, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression. Here are some of the things to look out for in yourself or a new parent you may know.

Baby blues symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying
  • Decrease in one's ability to concentrate

Postpartum depression symptoms

  • Depressed mood
  • Excessive crying
  • Change in eating habits (too little, too much)
  • Anxiety
  • Unable to think clear
  • Anger/rage
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Withdrawing
  • Thoughts of harming self or baby
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Loss of interest/joy in activities once enjoyed

This past year has made the phrase “it takes a village,” somewhat untenable due to the safety precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This can make an already difficult time for new parents even more isolating. Check in with your loved ones who are new parents, offering support and help where it’s needed and keeping an eye out for the symptoms above.

Pregnancy and having a new baby in your life is an exciting time but you may not feel like that. Remember, it’s natural to experience emotions that aren’t as tidy and jubilant as you may believe. If you are struggling with thoughts or behaviors that line up with postpartum depression, please contact your personal doctor and let them know. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please seek help immediately by calling the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.

About the Author

Courtney Hintze, RN guides women and their families through one of life’s greatest miracles – birth. She sees labor as an art form and loves helping her patients overcome their challenges. Courtney was named Nurse of the Year 2021 by USA Today-Wisconsin and credits this distinction to her empathy, compassion and patient-centered approach to care.
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