Having a baby is one of the most significant changes women experience in life. After birth, you should be ecstatic to hold your baby in your arms and see their face for the first time, right? What happens when you don’t feel how you expected? Not every woman is bursting with joy after enduring a long pregnancy and the pain of birth — some may feel burned out, anxious or sad. It’s also not uncommon to experience random crying spells or a loss of appetite.
These symptoms point toward a typical case of baby blues, which is relatively harmless and lasts a few days after birth. However, if you find yourself feeling depressed and moody for more than two weeks, you may have a case of postpartum depression.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects women who’ve recently given birth. It doesn’t manifest the same way for everyone, but it usually results in a reduced ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. It’s much like the standard definition of depression in that it depletes your energy, lowers your mood and feels incredibly difficult to shake off. Postpartum depression isn’t a battle you fight alone, though — one in seven women experience it after birth. Countless new mothers can relate to feeling that dense fog of melancholy.
Postpartum depression also fits under the definition of perinatal depression. This condition includes both prenatal and postpartum depression — in essence, a depression that lasts for most of your pregnancy and the months following birth.
What Causes It?
During pregnancy, hormones affect everything from your mood to your sleeping habits. Your body begins producing estrogen and progesterone in higher amounts. While pregnant, these two hormones are at the highest levels they’ll ever be during your lifetime. After you give birth, they decrease dramatically. Such a rapid decline in hormones won’t be without side effects, which is why many women experience baby blues. However, this decrease can spiral into a case of postpartum depression for others.
You’re more at risk for this condition if you already have a mental health disorder, lack a support system or have pre-existing relationship issues. These are only a few possible causes — your situation may be different.
Postpartum depression doesn’t always rear its head immediately after birth. Sometimes it takes a year for symptoms to appear — this often happens as a result of stopping breastfeeding. Breastfeeding produces prolactin, which encourages the release of oxytocin — the feel-good hormone. When you stop breastfeeding, the production of oxytocin slows down, and this can sometimes lead to depression or anxiety. If you find yourself searching Google for answers to “what is postpartum depression” a year after giving birth, this may be the reason why.
Signs to Watch Out For
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Depressed mood
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Social withdrawal
- Inability to bond with your baby
- Anxiety attacks
- Suicidal ideation
Familiarize yourself with these symptoms — you’ll have an idea of what’s wrong if you begin feeling off after giving birth. Only a doctor can diagnose you, so it’s crucial to make an appointment if you suspect depression is the culprit. Taking a trip to your doctor’s office and asking a simple question like “what is postpartum depression?” will open up a world of helpful resources you probably weren’t aware of.
Ways to Treat It
Your doctor may prescribe you an antidepressant if your symptoms are particularly hard for you to endure, but don’t be alarmed. Many antidepressants are safe to take while nursing and don’t pose any harm to you or your baby. They do pass on to the milk, as anything else you ingest does, but these are small amounts that have no overall effect on your baby’s health.
You can also try talking to a therapist. Talk therapy continues to be an incredibly effective way of recognizing your problems and working through them with mindful techniques. Sometimes the best thing in life is having someone nearby to hear you and understand how you feel. Connect with other new mothers through social media so you can read perspectives of women who’ve dealt with the same issues. Parenting blogs and forums are popular avenues for having meaningful discussions with other parents.
While taking medication or going to therapy, you also have at-home options for improving your mood. Try exercising by doing some simple ab workouts that will both rebuild your strength and make you feel more confident about your body. Exercise is proven to boost your energy and lift your spirits. Take free moments within the day to accomplish small tasks that bring you joy, such as drinking a cup of herbal tea or listening to the birds sing.
Reclaim Your Happiness
What is postpartum depression as you understand it? It’s a disorder, yes — but it’s not an indication of your worth as a mother. Every day, society is becoming more aware of and sensitive to the unique struggles of those battling mental illnesses. You don’t have to battle any mental health problem alone, and there’s no shame in needing help.
Pregnancy is a major experience for the human body, and it’s not realistic to assume there won’t be side effects — whether good or bad. Preserve your mental wellness by acknowledging when you need help and taking steps to increase your happiness.