Latest posts by Teresa Neff (see all)
Do you find that you can’t stop yelling at your family? That you almost fall asleep driving yourself and baby to the doctor’s office? That you cry all the time? It’s possible you have Postpartum Depression. Keep reading.
I recently wrote an article on my personal blog about my experience with postpartum depression (PPD). I’m out of the woods now, but it lasted until my baby was well over a year old. I write about how I recognized it fairly early on and tried to get help for myself and did not succeed. Luckily for me it was a somewhat mild case, and I ended up powering through it without any lasting consequences.
Other women are not so lucky, AND we shouldn’t be “powering through” this stuff. Motherhood is hard. Let’s talk about it. Let’s be honest with each other, so that we can support each other.
So What Is Postpartum Depression?
PPD is depression caused by your hormones being off kilter. It can look like “typical” depression, but it can also look a lot more like anxiety or anger. Your body and brain are still trying to adapt to not being pregnant anymore. Adjusting to life with a very needy little human and the inevitable sleep deprivation also contribute.
PPD is quite common: one study showed that 1 in 7 women suffer from it. You don’t need to have a history of depression to have PPD (although it might make it more likely). You can have PPD after your second child even if you didn’t have it after your first. PPD shows up somewhere in the first year of baby’s life, usually within 3 weeks after birth, and typically subsides by baby’s first birthday.
You Might Have PPD if…
- You’re always yelling
- You frequently feel angry
- You feel filled with rage
- Your anger is disproportionate to situation
- You feel you can’t control your emotions
- You feel numb
- You feel sad, hopeless
- You hate leaving the house and attempt to avoid it
- You avoid contact with friends and family
- You feel disconnected
- It’s hard to get through the day, most days
- You feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities
- You cry a lot, or for no apparent reason, or uncontrollably
- You feel tired all the time and all you want to do is sleep (this is tricky because most moms do – it’s a matter of degree)
- You can’t sleep
- You think about running away
- You think about hurting yourself or your baby
- You don’t feel bonded to your baby
- You don’t eat
- You eat beyond your hunger (be careful with this one – nursing moms are naturally VERY hungry; if you’re eating a lot because you’re hungry, that’s good, and not a sign of depression)
Why are we so scared to talk about this?
The lack of open and honest communication regarding PPD is hurting everyone, and keeping women everywhere from getting help. If it’s so common, why the stigma? Is it because as moms we feel the need to be rock solid, ALL THE TIME? Is it because admitting we are suffering is the same thing as showing weakness and that isn’t allowed in this culture? Is it because if mom can’t do this, who can?!? But that’s the point. If mom can’t do this, then the whole family suffers. And mom can’t do this if she’s suffering from A CHEMICAL IMBALANCE. If mom gets the flu, or mono, or hepatitis, family and friends will generally make at least some effort to help her get better and help lighten her load while she recovers. And they (generally) won’t judge her for her illness. The same should be true for PPD, since it’s just like any other illness mom might have.
As long as we aren’t talking about it, moms aren’t routinely getting the help they need, and families are suffering. Treatment of PPD is actually quite often successful; the problem is getting moms to recognize they have a problem and seek treatment. But how can you recognize something you’ve never seen or talked about? And even if you do know enough about PPD to recognize it in someone else, that doesn’t mean you have the perspective and the awareness to recognize it in yourself.
What’s the solution?
Talk about this with your provider BEFORE giving birth. Learn the signs and symptoms so that you recognize it. Make a plan for what to do about it. Discuss postpartum psychosis as well, just to cover your bases.
Trust that your friends and family love you unconditionally and talk to them about how you feel. Allow them to help you.
When your child’s provider asks you those “how is your mood” type questions, answer them HONESTLY. Let them point you to resources that can help you.
The more women talk openly about their experiences with PPD, the less powerful the stigma becomes. We are moving in the right direction; after all we’ve got famous people admitting to having PPD AND we’ve got those PPD screening questions on all the well child exam forms. We just need to go a lot further. We need the stigma removed, we need moms talking openly, and we need providers to be able to sniff out PPD and know how to treat it effectively.
How do you treat PPD?
Get help. Even if you aren’t sure, get help. There’s no harm in finding out you don’t have it, but a lot of harm in missing it when you do. Don’t try to go it alone. Find someone who takes your concerns seriously. Your practitioner, whether it’s a primary care doctor, an OB/GYN or midwife, or a counselor / therapist, should listen to your concerns, validate them, and give you treatment advice. If you feel your symptoms have been downplayed, FIND SOMEONE ELSE!
Dr. Erika offers some really excellent treatment advice in this article. As Dr. Erika suggests, reach out to a practitioner to help you with this journey.
Perhaps most important of all, remember you are not alone in this.