1. Different Degrees of Depression
There are different degrees of depression. The mildest form is baby blues.
Up to 80% of all women have “baby blues.” They usually appear between 2
days and 2 weeks after the baby is born. They are temporary and usually
leave as quickly as they come. This situation lasts only a couple of
weeks, and symptoms do not worsen.
A more serious version of postpartum distress is called postpartum depression (PPD).
It affects about 10% of all new mothers. The difference between baby
blues and postpartum depression lies in the frequency, intensity and
duration of the symptoms.
PPD can occur from 2 weeks to 1 year
after the birth. A mother may have feelings of anger, confusion, panic
and hopelessness. She may experience changes in her
eating and sleeping patterns. She may fear she will hurt her baby or
feel as if she is going crazy. Anxiety is one of the major symptoms of
The most serious form of postpartum distress is postpartum psychosis (PPP).
The woman may have hallucinations, think about suicide or try to harm
the baby. Many women who develop postpartum psychosis also exhibit
signs of bipolar mood disorder, which is unrelated to childbirth.
Discuss this situation with your physician if you are concerned.
After you give birth, if you believe you
are suffering from some form of postpartum distress syndrome, contact
your healthcare provider. Every postpartum reaction, whether mild or
severe, is usually temporary and treatable.
It’s normal to feel extremely
tired, especially after the hard work of labor and delivery and
adjusting to the demands of being a new mom. However, if after 2 weeks
of motherhood you’re just as exhausted as you were shortly after you
delivered, you may be at risk of developing postpartum depression.
2. Causes of Postpartum Distress Syndrome
Researchers aren’t sure what causes
postpartum distress; not all women experience it. A woman’s individual
sensitivity to hormonal changes may be part of the cause; the drop in
estrogen and progesterone after delivery may contribute to postpartum
A new mother must make many adjustments,
and many demands are placed on her. Either or both of these situations
may cause distress. If you had a Cesarean delivery, you may also be at
greater risk for postpartum depression.
Other possible factors include a family
history of depression, lack of familial support after the birth,
isolation and chronic fatigue. You may also be at higher risk of
suffering from PPDS if:
• your mother or sister suffered from the problem—it seems to run in families
• you suffered from PPDS with a previous pregnancy—chances are you’ll have the problem again
• you had fertility treatments to achieve this pregnancy—hormone fluctuations may be more severe, which may cause PPDS
• you suffered extreme PMS before the pregnancy—hormonal imbalances may be greater after the birth
• you have a personal history of depression, or you suffered from untreated depression before pregnancy
• a hormonal drop as a result
• you are anxious or have low self-esteem
• you have a struggling relationship with baby’s father
• your access to finances and health care are limited
• you experience little social support
• you had more than one baby or you have a colicky or high-maintenance baby
• you experienced a lack of sleep
during pregnancy, you sleep less than 6 hours in a 24-hour period or
you wake 3 or more times a night
In addition, if you answer “most of the
time” or “some of the time” to any of the following questions, you may
be at increased risk.
• I blame myself when things go wrong (even if you have nothing to do with them).
• I often feel scared or panicked without good reason.
• I am anxious or worried without good reason.
3. Handling the Baby Blues
One of the most important ways you can
help yourself handle baby blues is to have a good support system near
at hand. Ask family members and friends to help. Ask your mother or
mother-in-law to stay for a while. Ask your husband to take some work
leave, or hire someone to come in and help each day.
Rest when your baby sleeps. Find other
mothers who are in the same situation; it helps to share your feelings
and experiences. Don’t try to be perfect. Pamper yourself.
Do some form of moderate exercise every
day, even if it’s just going for a walk. Eat nutritiously, and drink
plenty of fluids. Get out of the house every day. Eating more complex
carbohydrates may help raise your mood. And giving baby a massage may
help you because it helps you connect with your baby.
Talk to your healthcare provider about
temporarily using antidepressants if the above steps don’t work for
you. About 85% of all women who suffer from postpartum depression
require medication for up to 1 year.
4. Dealing with More Serious Forms of PPDS
Beyond the relatively minor symptoms of
baby blues, postpartum distress syndrome can appear in two ways. Some
women experience acute depression that can last for weeks or months;
they cannot sleep or eat, they feel worthless and isolated, they are
sad and they cry a great deal. For other women, they are extremely
anxious, restless and agitated. Their heart rate increases. Some
unfortunate women experience both sets of symptoms at the same time.
experience any symptoms, call your healthcare provider immediately. He
or she will probably see you in the office, then prescribe a course of
treatment. Do it for yourself and your family.
5. Your Distress Can Affect Your Partner
If you experience baby blues or PPD, it
can also affect your partner. Prepare him for this situation before
baby is born. Explain to him that if it happens to you, it’s only
There are some things you might
suggest to your partner that he can do for himself, if you get blue or
depressed. Tell him not to take the situation personally. Suggest he
talk to friends, family members, other fathers or a professional. He
should eat well, get enough rest and exercise. Ask him to be patient
with you, and ask him to provide his love and support to you during
this difficult time.