Brave New Motherhood

The Many Faces of Postpartum Depression

The Many Faces of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression

Do I have postpartum depression?

Pregnancy can be such a beautiful time: growing a life, having that constant companion inside you. You’re excited, confident, ready to throw open the doors to love beyond measure.

The birth of your baby is the grand finale of all this anticipation, and motherhood is a joyous celebration.

But what if it isn’t?

Within the year after delivery, 1 in 7 women find themselves in a deep, dark abyss of depression.

While the term “postpartum depression” can call to mind the worst in headline news, the reality manifests in many ways.

What are signs of postpartum depression?

what are the signs of PPD?

Although we don’t know the exact causes of postpartum depression (PPD), researchers believe it may be from a combination of changes in brain chemistry or neural circuitry and changing hormones.

Women suffering from postpartum depression may experience the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness and an inability to sleep
  • Lethargy and sleeping too much
  • Chronic fatigue and brain fog, difficulty making decisions, and forgetfulness
  • Eating much more or much less than usual
  • Overwhelming sadness and hopelessness, with tearful episodes coming out of nowhere
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Intense feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or worthlessness
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in everyday activities
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Physical discomforts like indigestion, muscle aches, and headaches
  • Relentless anxiety, panic attacks, and racing, scary thoughts
  • Excessive irritability, anger, or agitation and lashing out at others
  • Fear of not being a good mother or agonizing over loss of self

Many factors may contribute to and compound postpartum depression:

  • A labor that didn’t go according to birth plan
  • Fatigue from an arduous labor
  • Lack of sleep from the constant demands of a newborn
  • Breastfeeding challenges
  • Physical discomfort during recovery
  • Lack of family nearby to support the transition
  • Difficulty adjusting to weight gain
  • Changes in home and work routines
  • Perfectionism and the desire to be a “perfect” mom
  • Doubts about the ability to be a good mother

Women at the extreme end of the spectrum may have thoughts of hurting themselves or abandoning or hurting their babies.

Postpartum psychosis occurs in 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 births, with symptoms of confusion, hallucinations, and/or rapid mood swings.

Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency. If you are experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, go to the ER or CALL YOUR DOCTOR immediately.

What's the difference between
baby blues and postpartum depression?

what is the difference between baby blues and PPD?

You may have heard the term “baby blues” to describe the mood swings most new mothers experience. The sudden hormonal changes after delivery can cause anxiety, stress, isolation, fatigue, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. About 80% of new mothers report feeling tearful and emotionally fragile for the first few weeks postpartum.

The moment my son was delivered, I knew I would die for him. It was an intense love at first meeting, and the emotions that accompanied my postpartum period were both awesome and awful. 

Most of the time I felt fine; I was learning how to breastfeed (which was very painful for 4.5 months), I was sleeping perhaps two hours at a time, and I was engrossed in our new bundle and my new role as a mom. In those first few weeks, I found myself randomly weeping. Sometimes I was sleep deprived; other times I was overwhelmed by emotions I’d never experienced before.

My heart opened in a way I didn’t even know was possible. I felt like—simply by becoming a mother— I could love other people better, as if I could suddenly love unconditionally. I began to see strangers differently, and I was overwhelmed by the idea that everybody is someone’s baby. It was both beautiful and exhausting to feel this deeply. After about three weeks, the intensity of my baby blues lessened, and I felt ready to emerge from my baby cocoon and interact with the world again.

Baby blues tend to subside after a few weeks, whereas postpartum depression persists for months, sometimes longer if untreated. Health care professionals have helpful tools like the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to assess the emotions new moms are feeling. 

What does PPD look like?

Clinical descriptions only tell part of the story. While many moms report feeling some of the same key emotions, postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders will be different for every woman.

Whether from the stress of labor, a genetic predisposition, or even a perceived failure to “live up to” what you believe your motherhood journey should look like, postpartum depression can make you feel hopeless and broken. The good news? While what you’re experiencing can make you feel isolated, you’re not alone.

Sophia Carr, Kindred Bravely's Instagram Manager, describes her postpartum anxiety.

PPD, PPA

It’s planning out every possible exit each time we enter a room, just in case some terrible disaster would occur where I need to protect us.

It’s being terrified of something hurting him when I can’t do anything to help or of something happening to me so I can’t care for him anymore.

It’s only wanting to drive when the sun is shining because I’m afraid we’ll end up in danger if I drive in the rain, snow, or sleet.

It’s willingly sitting at home and not caring about missing out on fun times with family and friends because I’m too scared of something bad happening to us while we’re there. It takes all of my strength to get us out of the car and into the store. More often than not, I pull into the spot and sit there for a few minutes, contemplating whether we really need to be there or if we’d be fine just going home instead.

It’s panicking when we’re out and a stranger comes up to us and touches him. When my son was about seven months old, a little girl came up to him while we were at the mall and grabbed his hand. I quickly told her “no, you can’t touch him” and immediately sanitized his hand. I felt guilty after she apologized, but it happened so fast. My heart was racing for hours after that.

If we’re out shopping, and someone nearby has a cough, and they either don’t cover their mouth or keep coughing, I put back all of the things I was going to buy and hustle to get us out of there as fast as we can.

This may all sound silly and ridiculous, even crazy, to someone who doesn’t experience these things, but they’re real. These feelings sneak up and get you when you’re at your most vulnerable. There’s not much you can do to prepare for this, but knowing what to look for can make it a lot easier.

Sarah Ortmayer, Kindred Bravely's Social Media Manager, experienced prenatal anxiety. 

SarahIn college I was diagnosed with mild depression and anxiety; I tried taking medication but didn’t find the right fit. I either ended up feeling numb or fake happy.

With each of my pregnancies, anxiety overwhelmed me. One moment I’d be feeling great, the next I felt consumed with worries I couldn’t control. I became obsessed with my children’s safety, constantly worrying about what could happen to them—especially if they weren’t with me.

Since medication had never worked for me, I tried to find small things to help me feel more like myself: eating healthy foods, getting a haircut, and being outside as much as possible. Fortunately for me, as soon as I give birth, the change in my hormones brings be back to my pre-pregnancy self again.

Many celebrity moms are also open about their postpartum experiences. They have helped bring awareness to the challenges of PPD.

Chrissy Teigen felt mental anguish over letting others down, which manifested into physical pain. Bryce Dallas Howard felt a loss of emotions, which she calls “emotional amnesia.” Gwyneth Paltrow struggled to acknowledge her depression. Marie Osmond was driven to action by intense fight-or-flight feelings. Alanis Morissette felt despondency and physical pain. Brooke Shields experienced guilt, shame, and even disinterest in her baby.

According to a study from The Cumming School of Medicine in Calgary, difficulty with breastfeeding may increase the odds of suffering postpartum depression. Mothers who sought advice and support for breastfeeding were less likely to suffer from depression.

It’s also important to note that dads can experience postpartum depression as well. While Paternal Postnatal Depression isn’t caused by the hormonal changes of pregnancy and delivery, it can be as debilitating and have as great an effect on the family as postpartum depression in women.

What should you do if you think you have postpartum depression?

what should you do if you think you have postpartum depression?

If you recognize that you aren’t feeling like yourself and think you may have postpartum depression, acknowledge that what you’re experiencing isn’t your fault. Remind yourself that you’re not imagining your feelings. PPD is real and treatable. Remember, you're not alone.

Seek assistance to move toward feeling better. Often, labeling the condition and talking to someone about it can help. Professional treatments for postpartum depression include various forms of psychotherapy, often combined with medication. Treatment can help you gain the skills you need to cope with everyday challenges and manage your feelings.

If you think you’re experiencing a medical emergency, find someone to watch your baby while someone else takes you to your doctor or the ER.

How can you help a loved one who has PPD?

how can you help someone with postpartum depression?

No one wants to be told “you need help,” but if you see a loved one struggling, you might mention to her that she doesn’t seem quite like herself. You can gently ask, “How are you doing? Can I help with anything?” Let her know you're there for her, no matter what, and that it will get better.

Andrea Schneider, LCSW and Psychotherapist, suggests the following ways to help:

  • Seek competent help for your loved one.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Don’t try to diagnose her yourself.
  • Tell her when you notice she is getting better.
  • Encourage her to rest, exercise, and eat nutritiously.
  • Attend appointments with her.
  • Work with healing professionals to support her.
  • Get support for yourself.
  • Remind her that she is experiencing a medical condition.
  • Make sure you're also getting rest.

You need to look out for your own mental health too. Even if you understand what’s causing your loved one’s depression, it can be difficult not to internalize some of the struggle or question your own self-worth. Speaking with a therapist and taking some time for yourself can help you through this challenging period.

If your loved one is experiencing a psychiatric emergency, seek help from a health care professional immediately: call emergency services, her health care provider, or the hospital’s emergency department and follow their instructions.

Who can help with PPD?

who can help with postpartum depression?

There are many places to find help. You can start with your primary care doctor or OBGYN, who can refer you to a psychologist who is trained to help with postpartum depression. You can contact the American Psychological Association for a list of practitioners in your area at 1-800-374-2721 or at www.apa.org.

You can also contact:

Be brave. Be you.

PPD can make you feel like your resources are depleted and you’ll never be your “normal self” again. You may feel you're failing or inadequate. Admitting these fears is one of the bravest things you can do.

I firmly believe that every mom is exactly the right parent for her children. Being open about our emotions takes incredible courage, but that bravery is the best gift you can give your children. Showing them that it’s okay to be vulnerable will help teach them to be compassionate towards others and themselves.

With the right support system, postpartum depression is treatable. Like every stage of parenthood, it won’t last forever, and it will get better.

Be you bravely,
Deeanne

 

Back to blog