As you hold your baby, the emotions wash over you like a tidal wave. Since coming home from the hospital, you never know how you are going to feel from one moment to the next — and you are beginning to realize the moments of joy seem to be few and far between.
You begin to wonder: Is it normal to feel this way?
Postpartum mood disorders — including postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety — are common and affect approximately 15 percent of moms. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after childbirth, but in some cases, symptoms may appear as early as during pregnancy, or as late as up to a year after giving birth. With such a large window of onset, it is important to know what to look for and when to seek help.
If you feel like you might be suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, know that you are not alone. Cincinnati resident Jessica Mitchell realized her postpartum anxiety started after giving birth to her second child.
“I would have some good days and some really bad ones,” Mitchell says. “I was in constant fear that someone was going to die. My mind was racing. I felt like I always had to be doing something. I was overwhelmed with simple tasks. Some days, I would sit in the middle of the room in this blank daze, wondering what I was doing. My husband and I kept thinking external things were causing the problems and that it would pass. Six months postpartum, I knew I had to figure out what was going on because nothing was improving.”
Mitchell’s doctor confirmed that she had both postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, as well as an overactive thyroid, which contributed to some of her physical and emotional symptoms.
Shameka Perry, a therapist in the Moving Beyond Depression program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, outlines the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression and anxiety.
“It is common for moms to worry after giving birth. However, moms experiencing postpartum anxiety will have excessive worry, including intrusive thoughts, such as, ‘Is baby feeding enough?’ or ‘I am not a good mother,’” Perry says. “The thoughts may persist even if there is evidence to the contrary.”
The duration of the symptoms is another key difference. “Moms suffering from baby blues experience mild symptoms of depression,” Perry says. “If, after two weeks, mom still feels really bad or worrying persists, it is likely that she is suffering from postpartum depression and/or anxiety and should seek treatment.”
Ebony Peak, a social worker with Cradle Cincinnati Connections, encourages mothers who feel depressed or anxious to seek help.
“Do not be silent about it,” Peak says. “Talk to your support systems and healthcare providers about what you are feeling. There are many programs and services available to assist.”
In hindsight, Mitchell wishes she would have talked to her doctor about her feelings a lot sooner. “Instead, I suffered in silence,” she says. “Find a few people you can call to help when needed. I have found that if we will only ask for help, we would be surprised at what happens.”
And to other moms who are struggling as she did, Mitchell offers this advice: “Do not believe the lie that this will last forever,” she says. “Postpartum depression and anxiety are crippling. In the moment, you wonder if it will last forever. Do not lose hope. Help is available.”
Common Symptoms of Postpartum Depression or Anxiety
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Decreased or increased sleep (not related to newborn activities)
- Decreased concentration that significantly impairs daily function
- Lack of interest in usual hobbies and activities
- Increased crying, yelling, irritability, racing thoughts, anxiousness or other emotional releases
- Physical changes, such as racing heart rate, persistent nausea or dizziness
- Any thoughts of self-harm or thoughts of hurting someone else
Moms, please know you are not alone in your struggles. Reach out to friends and family, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if necessary.