Feeling Blue after Giving Birth

Julia just gave birth to a wonderful baby boy. Everyone's ecstatic with joy. Everyone, that is, except Julia. This is supposed to be such a happy time. So, why does Julia feel low?

Some degree of emotional vulnerability is natural and expected after childbirth. Many new mothers experience the “baby blues”, a form of depression that begins a few days to a week after delivery and generally lasts no longer than two weeks. When a new mom has the baby blues, she may feel weepy, anxious, and unable to sleep. The blues may also cause mothers to feel irritable or moody.

In most cases, these feelings of sadness gradually subside in a week or two. Moms often feel better after getting some rest and a helping hand with the baby. But if a mother continues to feel low for more than two weeks, she may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).

PPD is depression after childbirth. Hormonal changes may trigger symptoms of postpartum depression. When a woman is pregnant, levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone increase greatly. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, hormone levels quickly return to normal. Researchers think the big change in hormone levels may lead to depression. This is much like the way smaller hormone changes can affect a woman’s moods before she gets her period.

Levels of thyroid hormones may also drop after giving birth. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that helps regulate how your body uses and stores energy from food. Low levels of thyroid hormones can cause symptoms of depression. A simple blood test can tell if this condition is causing your symptoms. If so, your doctor can prescribe thyroid medication..

Most symptoms of PPD are the same as in major depression. In addition to a depressed mood, women with PPD may have the following symptoms nearly every day:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling withdrawn, socially isolated or unconnected
  • Lack of pleasure in all or most activities
  • Loss of energy  
  • Negative feelings toward the baby
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Trouble sleeping

PPD has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. While the numbers may appear to be rising, it may also be more likely that it is simply becoming more socially acceptable to admit to needing help and facing difficulties during the postpartum period.

Women may have a higher chance of postpartum depression if they:

  • Are under age 20
  • Currently abuse alcohol, take illegal substances, or smoke (Remember, these are also serious medical health risks for the baby)
  • Did not plan the pregnancy or do not want the pregnancy
  • Had a mood or anxiety disorder prior to pregnancy, including depression with a previous pregnancy
  • Had something stressful happened to you during the pregnancy, including illness, death or illness of a loved one, a difficult or emergency delivery, premature delivery or illness or abnormality in the baby
  • Have a close family member who has had depression or anxiety
  • Have a poor relationship with your husband, boyfriend, or significant other or are unmarried
  • Have financial problems (low income, poor housing)
  • Have little support from family, friends, and a significant other
  • Previously attempted suicide
  • Received poor support from your parents in childhood

            Depression, in general, is often ignored or considered non-medical. Most people think it will go away. But, this is not always true. While some cases of depression may be minor and just disappear, there are many people who experience severe depression that requires medical treatment.

            PPD is one form of depression that should never be overlooked especially since there’s a baby involved. Since PPD can impair a mother’s ability to successfully parent her child, PPD can pose a threat to the infant as well as the mother.   

Untreated postpartum depression can affect your ability to parent. You may:

  • Lack energy
  • Have trouble focusing
  • Feel moody
  • Not be able to meet your child’s needs

As a result, you may feel guilty and lose confidence in yourself as a mother. These feelings can make your depression worse. Researchers believe postpartum depression in a mother can affect her baby as well. It can cause the baby to have:

  • Delays in language development
  • Problems with mother-child bonding
  • Behavior problems
  • Increased crying

Some women don’t tell anyone about their symptoms. They feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty about feeling depressed when they are supposed to be happy.

Any woman may become depressed after having a baby. It doesn’t mean she is a bad mom. It helps if a partner or another caregiver can help meet the baby’s needs while a mother is depressed.

Here are some other helpful tips:

  • Rest as much as you can. Sleep when the baby is sleeping.
  • Don’t try to do too much or try to be perfect.
  • Ask your partner, family and friends for help.
  • Make time to go out, visit friends or spend time alone with your partner.
  • Discuss your feelings with your partner, family and friends.
  • Talk with other mothers so you can learn from their experiences.
  • Join a support group. Ask your doctor about groups in your area.

All children deserve the chance to have a healthy mom and all moms deserve the chance to enjoy their life and their children. If you are feeling depressed during pregnancy or after having a baby, don’t suffer alone. Please tell a loved one and call your doctor right away.