One day, after our angel baby was born and passed away, I turned on a cartoon for my son, and called my sister in tears to tell her I thought I had postpartum depression and to ask her what I should do. It had been months since my daughter's birth, and I just didn't feel like I was bouncing back emotionally as quickly as I thought I should be. I was starting to worry that the emotions I was struggling with every day were being caused by something much more serious, and unexpected, than grieving the loss of my daughter.
My sister calmly and reassuringly talked to me, and, most importantly, listened to me as I told her what I was feeling. As we talked and researched the symptoms of postpartum depression, I realized my emotions weren't being caused by postpartum depression. Instead, I was still processing the loss of my daughter (let's be honest, I'll probably be working on this my entire life). My doctor had also made some changes to the thyroid medication I had been taking. When your thyroid is under-treated, you can experience many of the same symptoms as a new mama who is struggling with postpartum depression. Thankfully, as soon as I switched back to the thyroid medication I had been taking (and had been working really well) for years, my emotions settled down, and I was soon back to my normal self. Even though I didn't have postpartum depression, feeling just a couple of the symptoms was almost debilitating and very frightening. And, I'm sure there are many other new moms who have wondered if they have postpartum depression. So what is postpartum depression? And what signs and symptoms should you and your loved ones be watching for?
What is Postpartum Depression?
There are several causes of postpartum depression, including hormone changes, having a history of depression, and facing stressful and/or difficult problems. While you're pregnant, your hormone levels rise then drop suddenly after your baby is born. This sudden drop in hormones can cause depression, moodiness, or heightened emotions similar to (but much more serious and intense) the "baby blues" many moms experience after birth, or even the moodiness you feel right before your period starts. New moms are also at an increased risk of developing postpartum depression if they have a history of depression, or if depression runs in their family. And if there are situations or circumstances in your life that are causing additional stress (money problems, an unplanned pregnancy, caring for your baby with minimal help and support, the loss of a baby, etc.), you are also more likely to develop postpartum depression. One thing I think is extremely important to note is that postpartum depression is NOT your fault, and it does not mean you are less capable than other new mothers. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Postpartum depression isn't a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it's simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms — and enjoy your baby."
What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
It's important to note that there is a big difference between the "baby blues" that many moms experience after the birth of their baby, and postpartum depression. The symptoms associated with postpartum depression are much more intense, and tend to last longer, than the feelings that accompany the baby blues. While the baby blues only affect a new mom for the first couple weeks after delivery, postpartum depression can occur during the first few months or even up to a year after birth. These are the symptoms you might experience if you have the baby blues:
In addition to the symptoms you might face if you have the baby blues, postpartum depression will cause you to feel much more intense feelings of inadequacy, guilt, anxiety, and fatigue. If you have any of the following symptoms, it's important to talk to a loved one and seek help from a doctor:
Depressed mood or severe mood swings
Difficulty bonding with your baby
Withdrawing from family and friends
Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Intense irritability and anger
Fear that you're not a good mother
Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate, or make decisions
Severe anxiety and panic attacks
Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Even though I haven't experienced postpartum depression first-hand, feeling just a few of these symptoms and also struggling with situational depression as a result of my daughter's death, has made me so much more sympathetic toward moms who are struggling with postpartum depression. If you are one of these mamas, I hope you can reach out to your loved ones, and your doctor, and find the help you need, so you can bond with your precious new baby and enjoy being a new mom!