It’s been a week. We’re still strangers. Breastfeeding is hard. You need so much more than I ever expected. We just got home from visiting Grandma. You’re crying, your sister is crying, I’m crying. I’ve changed your diaper, nursed you, and swaddled you. Nothing is helping. I hand you to your daddy and shut myself in the dark bathroom and cry. I feel like a failure. I’m angry that I can’t stop the crying. I’m so exhausted. I just want to sleep, but I can’t. It makes the crying even less tolerable. Motherhood is utterly overwhelming.
You just had a baby and the expectation is this beautiful, blissful postpartum period. You expect to feel joyous, celebratory, and euphoric. Instead you feel anxious, exhausted, weepy, and irritable. You may begin to wonder, “Why don’t I feel normal?” Postpartum baby blues is normal.
After birth, 85% of women experience some type of mood disturbance. Out of those, 10-15% experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety. Postpartum mood disturbances are broken down into various categories depending on the severity of symptoms 1) Baby Blues, 2) Postpartum anxiety, 3) Postpartum depression, 4) Postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum baby blues shows up a few hours to a few days after birth and peeks around 4-5 days. These feelings usually fade around 2 weeks postpartum. Although baby blues is normal, it can be indicative of a potential problem with postpartum depression. Symptoms of baby blues include:
- Mood swings
- Decreased concentration
A moderate amount of new fears and worry is normal in new moms and joining a postpartum support group often helps alleviate these concerns. However,postpartum anxiety occurs when anxiety builds up and begins to interfere with a mother’s ability to care for herself or her new baby. Anxiety symptoms can present themselves in our bodies, our minds, and our actions and behaviors.
In our bodies-
- Increased heart rate
- Sore stomach
- Tight chest and throat
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
In our minds-
- Racing thoughts about the future
- Imagining the worst-case scenario
- Worrying and obsessing
In our actions and behaviors-
- Avoiding certain situations, activities, places, or people
- Asking others for constant reassurance
- Checking things repeatedly
- Being extra careful and vigilant of danger
When normal adjustments from hormones seems to linger on past 2 weeks, it may be time to talk to your primary care provider about postpartum depression. Postpartum depression occurs when the usual mood swings associated with hormonal fluctuations do not fade and, in fact, intensify. Postpartum depression can occur up to twelve months after birth. Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability and anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of interest in sex
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of shame, guilt, or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Postpartum depression left untreated can last for months or longer. If someone you love is experiencing these symptoms, please urge them to talk to their primary care provider.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition that occurs within the first two weeks after birth. It requires immediate help from your primary care provider. Do not wait for symptoms to improve on their own. Postpartum psychosis can lead to life-threatening thoughts and behaviors. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby
In conclusion, postpartum baby blues is completely normal. However, if you begin experiencing any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or postpartum psychosis, you should inform your primary care provider immediately.