New Moms and Postpartum Depression

Pregnancy and motherhood can bring on a host of unexpected emotions and stresses. When you leave the hospital with your new bundle of joy, you expect to settle into life at home surrounded by family and friends, flooded with happiness, and enjoying every new moment. What you may find really happens is that your husband immediately returns to work; friends and family may be consumed by their own busy lives; and your baby may eat and sleep at all hours of the day and night leaving you exhausted. You weren’t ready for this reality, and the high expectations you set for yourself as a new mom may be weighing on you.

You may even be experiencing some depression, and in some cases, postpartum depression (PPD). “This can’t be possible!” you say. “I don’t spend my days crying in a dark room, unable to dress or leave the house.” Many women are not fully aware of the wide variety of symptoms related to prenatal or postpartum depression (PPD). One size does not fit all, and one woman with PPD may look and sound completely different from the next. According to womenhealth.gov, depression is a common problem during and after pregnancy, and about 13% of pregnant women and new mothers have PPD.

PPD is not exclusive to biological mothers or people who may have experienced depression. Surprisingly, depression can affect adoptive mothers soon after their baby’s arrival. For biological moms, hormones can go haywire after a woman has given birth, but for an adoptive mother she can also be coping with the exhausting, round-the-clock demands of an infant. Adoptive mothers may also have an unrealistic vision of what life may be like after their child arrives. Their often sky-high expectations and a long period of waiting to become a parent can clash with the daily demands of childcare. New parents, biological or adoptive, contend with the same challenges that contribute to depression such as sleep deprivation, a change in your relationship with your partner, a greater need for help from others, the stress of caring for a new baby, a change in identity and, for biological mothers, hormonal shifts. While adoptive parents may not have the hormonal changes, the other stressors are there.

According to Karen Foli, PhD, assistant professor at the Purdue University School of Nursing in West Lafayette, Indiana, and coauthor of the book The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoptionresearch has also showed the importance of mental health, particularly depression, in birth parents as a correlate of behavior and emotional problems in children. Additionally, she noted that depressive symptoms were more likely higher for mothers who did not have the complete background or biographical information on their adoptive children, who, after placement, were considered special needs. However, depression was not correlated with parents who were aware they were receiving a child with known special needs. Long-term study is being done by Karen and her team to better understand how issues relate to maternal bonding with the child and marital satisfaction.

What are a few of the signs that you are experiencing PPD versus more normal new mom stress? 

1. You are angry often and irritated at a heightened level. You may want to throw things, or yell at everyone. Your rage is making it difficult to communicate with others.

2. You are having a hard time remembering things. Brain fog has set in and you are at a lack for finding the right words, or having difficulty multitasking as in the past.

3. You have scary, intrusive thoughts that enter your mind and seem like mini nightmares, keeping you up and having you question your actions.

4. You’re feeling empty, not necessarily crying all the time, but just going through the motions of daily life. You may even disconnect yourself from things you used to care about such as exercise or cooking.

5. You are having trouble sleeping. Insomnia has set in and you are not being able to sleep when presented with the opportunity. Friends will say sleep when the baby sleeps, and we all know this is easier said than done, but there is truth in the power of sleep.

6. You may be suffering physically with frequent headaches, backaches, upset stomach and panic attacks.

What are the next steps if you are experiencing any or all of the above signs?

Don’t ignore the value of talking to other young mothers. There is power in learning from others’ experiences and their practical suggestions can be very helpful. However, you will need immediate help if you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed most of the time. If your anxiety doesn’t seem to pass and you are having feelings of regret over becoming a mom, and especially if you have repetitive and intrusive thoughts of harming your baby, you must seek professional help immediately. The best thing to do is to reach out to your doctor.

While PPD is very common, it is not normal. You don’t have to feel this way as a new mother, and there are effective treatments on the road to recovery. Many people respond to psychotherapy alone in their treatment for depression. Others are helped by a combination of therapy and antidepressant medications. Everyone is different. We do know, however, that the longer one stays depressed and/or the more episodes one has had, the harder it is to treat the condition. This is just the frightening truth of PPD, and it really highlights how important it is for those affected to seek treatment.

Remember, although many depressed people feel guilty about not being stronger and tend to blame themselves, PPD is not a sign of weakness. A trained professional can help you to see things in a more positive light. Take those first baby steps to healing for yourself and your new family; reach out to your doctor or a psychologist today.

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