Postpartum Depression: What you need to know
What is Postpartum Depression?
The process of having a baby can be overwhelming to say the least. Regardless of initial feelings, dreams, and expectations about childbirth – the actual process and result can be met with mixed emotions including both excitement and anxiety. Postpartum depression is a highly common, yet immobilizing disorder that represents one of the most common complications of childbearing. Within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), it is included as a major depressive episode “with peripartum onset if onset of mood symptoms occurs during pregnancy or within 4 weeks following delivery”. However, for any individuals experiencing symptoms later than 4 weeks or who do not meet the criteria for a major depressive episode, may still be at harm and require support and treatment.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
The birth process is so significant physically, emotionally, and psychologically that experiencing some form of difficulty adapting to life afterwards is normal. Sometimes it can be confusing to decipher between experiencing the ‘baby blues’ following birth, versus postpartum depression. It is very common for the majority of women to experience some symptoms of the baby blues immediately after childbirth as the sudden change in hormones combined with stress, isolation, sleep deprivation, and fatigue can contribute to the appearance of some symptoms. Generally, any baby blues symptoms that do appear may last for a week or two, but if your symptoms don’t go away after a few weeks or get worse, you may be suffering from postpartum depression. Below are some common symptoms of both the Baby Blues and Postpartum depression to help you understand the difference:
Symptoms of ‘Baby Blues’ can include:
- Mood swings
- Sadness and crying
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities
- Clinically significant weight loss when not dieting or clinically significant weight gain, or increase or decrease in appetite
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Psychomotor agitation or delay
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt, or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness
- Excessive crying
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Severe anxiety or panic attacks
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
The main difference is that postpartum depression symptoms last longer and are often more intense than the baby blues. The nature of depression can be debilitating and may cause significant distress or impairment in an individual’s ability to carry out everyday activities, such as inhibiting a new mom from caring for their baby. Postpartum symptoms usually cultivate within the first few weeks following birth, but can also develop up to six months after birth. It is also important to note that it is not just those who give birth that may experience postpartum depression symptoms. Partners and even other immediate family members can experience the impacts of postpartum depression. Additionally, women who have a pre-existing history of symptoms of bipolar disorder or depression may have a higher likelihood of experiencing mood disturbances during and/or after pregnancy.
How to Get Support
Treatment options available for postpartum depression can vary based on the severity of symptoms and the level of functional impairment. Here are some ways you can take control of postpartum depression:
- Talk to your doctor –Medication may be a treatment option available to help manage severe symptoms of depression. However, it is important to have an open discussion with a qualified medical doctor around the benefits and risks with taking certain medications.
- Psychotherapy – Talking to a mental health professional like a Registered Psychotherapist (RP) or Psychologist can be beneficial in understanding and talking through your concerns. Through the process of therapy, you can learn more effective ways to cope and express your feelings, solve problems, set realistic goals and respond to situations in a positive way.
- Find support – Join local in-person or virtual support groups for new mothers. Additionally, Postpartum Support International has online support groups and a closed, private Facebook group that may be a helpful place to find support. You can also contact your local public health unit for additional support regarding programs and educational resources available.
- Prioritize sleep – Sleep is essential for our mental, emotional, and physical health and it serves as a critical component for your recovery. It can be difficult to find the time for quality sleep, so it is important to establish a nightly shift schedule with your partner or other supports to help this become a habit. It can be worthwhile to explore other options for night-time care for you’re baby, such as providing formula or pumping during the day so your partner can care for your baby at night to ensure you get an uninterrupted sleep.
- Find small ways to strengthen your bond with your baby – Warm, gentle affection and skin-to-skin contact can be an integral part of making your newborn feel safe and thus strengthening your bond. You can also build your bond through your interactions with your newborn by recognizing and responding to your baby’s cues and body language in warm and loving ways, to make them feel more secure.
- Self-care – The idea of taking time for yourself may seem ridiculous when you have another human being to care for, but this is one component that can have a significant impact on your mood and overall well-being. Setting aside a small amount of time daily to do something for yourself like going for a walk, reading a chapter of your favourite book, and even having a hot shower, can make a world of difference. It can be helpful to brainstorm what time of day works best with your partner or other supports, to ensure you can have a brief moment to disconnect from your responsibilities, reduce some of your stress, and get in touch with yourself.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Fifth edition.