Postpartum Depression – The Boogeyman of Pregnancy

It’s the boogeyman of pregnancy. The creepy monster hiding in your head. It’s the thing that keeps you second guessing yourself every time you start sobbing because the baby just won’t sleep, or eat, or stop crying. You wonder… is this postpartum depression?

As scary as it may feel, it’s critical that we talk about this remarkably common condition.  PPD shows up for approximately 15% of new parents, and while it’s not even vaguely guaranteed that you’ll have it, it’s essential we be aware and vigilant in catching and treating it. I learned the hard way that without proper care, can become a lasting, possibly chronic, condition.

So, lets take a quick look at what postpartum depression (also called postnatal depression) is and what we can do about it.

What does postpartum depression look like?

mom and baby in darknessIf you’re familiar with depression, you might have a pretty good idea what to look for. Depression and PPD are both intense and can majorly interfere with a mom’s daily life. That said, while many of the symptoms are similar, PPD actually contains a few “bonus features. ” Standard symptoms include:

  • severe mood swings and depression
  • withdrawl from family and friends
  • excessive crying
  • extreme anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • exhaustion (inability to sleep or sleeping too much)
  • inability to think or focus
  • anger/irritability
  • no joy from things you love
  • worthlessness, shame, and guilt

but postpartum depression also includes:

  • inability to bond with your child
  • fear of being a terrible mother
  • thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • And a few more…

Needless to say, it’s not something to mess around with. If you suspect PPD, get your butt to the doctor, and if you’re seriously thinking about hurting yourself or your child, call 911 (Like, immediately. Put the baby in the crib, walk away, and call the hospital. Trust me, the baby will be fine in the crib and you’ll both be better for it).

It’s also important to remember that PPD can show up before baby comes and days, weeks, or months after the birth of your baby.

But what makes it different from the baby blues?

mom dad and baby battery graphicUltimately, longevity. The baby blues pop up for nearly 80 percent of mothers, and usually they arrive shortly after new baby. The symptoms can be similar, but in the case of the blues, they typically only stick around for a short time (basically a few days to a couple weeks).  It’s normal for a new mom to feel irritable, tired, sad, and exhausted. Add into that the rapid hormonal shift as your body tries to readjust, and the down is bound to happen. In other words, don’t beat yourself up over it, okay?

I think it’s also important to note that while the blues typically go away on their own, feeling down and miserable is still a sign you should ask for some help with the kiddo. Get yourself a good nap, a good meal, and a good break. Trust me, it’s worth it!

Are there risk factors?

This is one of the big questions. What are the risk factors for PPD? How can I know if I’m going to get it?

Are there certain things that put you at higher risk for PPD? Sure. If you already have depression or a major mood disorder, of course it’s going to make a difference. Likewise, if you’ve had a difficult pregnancy, or multiple births, or a child with a special needs/developmental disorders, then you’ve got an increased chance. But, let’s be honest, it can appear under more mundane stresses, like relationship/financial troubles or a poor support system.

Mom and dad pregnant bellyI guess what I’m trying to say is that it can happen to anyone. Much like any mental health issue, postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate.

Does that mean you shouldn’t be extra vigilant if you’ve got one or more of the risk factors? Definitely not! Be active, be engaged, and be aware of your mental health! But it does mean that if you don’t have any risk factors and you still get PPD, don’t beat yourself up over it!

It can, and will, happen to anyone.

What can you do to prevent it?

Ah, the biggest question… How do I keep myself from getting postpartum depression?

Truth is, there’s not much. Like I said above, it can and will happen to anyone, and even if you do everything “right,” you can still end up with it. So if you end up suffering, it’s not because you did something wrong.

I’m not saying there’s nothing you can do, though. General self care is always important, as well as making sure you have a solid support network. Preparing for the new child (inasmuch as you can actually “prepare” for a kid…) can help you feel more relaxed with the new addition. Generally, any stress reduction can make a difference. Even if it doesn’t completely prevent it, it can at least help to reduce the severity and make it easier to manage.

And most importantlytalk to your doctor! If you’re pregnant and worried, talk to the doctor. If you’ve already had your child and you’re concerned, talk to the doctor. Talk to them about how you’re feeling, and always, always, always be honest! No matter how hard it is to say, how ashamed it makes you feel, or anything like that, you have to tell them everything. Your doctor is hands down your best line of defense when it comes to PPD, and quick and aggressive treatment is a necessity.

Okay, let’s close on a positive note.

mom and son reviewing cameraPPD is hard, there’s no doubt about it, but you can get through it. No matter how severe, it is possible to function in life, find moments of happiness, and bond with your child. I promise.

So, whatever happens, take care of yourself. Remember to be kind to, gentle with, and loving toward yourself as you navigate the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. You’re not alone.

You can do this.

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NOTE: if you’re wanting more resources on PPD, please feel free to check out the resources at Mayo Clinic, the National Institute of Mental Health, and this Women’s Health site. There’s some variation when it comes to what info they include, but they’re all great resources.

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