Guide for Overcoming Postpartum Depression

Perhaps no time is as turbulent in a young family’s life as when a child is born. It is a time of massive emotions, major life changes, and logistical challenges beyond compare. Combine that with the incredible physical challenges, the lack of sleep, the stress, the disruption to previously established routines, and you have the potential for major challenges.

Unfortunately, these issues are more than just the “baby blues.” In some cases, they can indicate a very real disorder known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a very serious condition and one that can have a major impact on the life of a mother, her baby, and the rest of her family. Thankfully, as time goes on, we are learning more and more about this illness, including ways to treat it.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms 

Postpartum depression is a disorder that strikes new mothers shortly after they give birth. Virtually all women experience some wild and unpredictable emotions in the aftermath of their child. This is normal and expected, as the birth of a child can cause a jumble of feelings. There are also physical ramifications to consider, as the birth of a child obviously can have a major impact on the physical health and hormone levels of a woman.

In some cases, these issues can be more serious than just the so-called “baby blues.” Postpartum depression ranges in severity but is usually more than occasional crying. Symptoms include:

  • Serious depression or mood swings.
  • Excessive and debilitating fears about the health and safety of your child.
  • Feelings of inadequacy or a failure to bond with your child.
  • Withdrawal from previously established social groups and having difficulty spending time with loved ones.
  • Reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Major upswings in panic, anxiety, or panic attacks. 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

In some cases, postpartum depression can morph into a much more severe illness, known as postpartum psychosis. Though thankfully rare, the ramifications of this can be severe. As the name implies, a woman who experiences postpartum psychosis begins to disconnect from reality and has trouble distinguishing between what is real and what isn’t. In these instances, a woman may have extreme thoughts about hurting herself or her child, suffer from hallucinations, obsess over her baby, not need to sleep as much, and exhibit extreme signs of paranoia or suspiciousness. In these instances, a woman may need immediate psychological care, including potentially a temporary commitment. 

The causes of postpartum depression are not completely understood. However, some studies have linked it to previous instances of depression, the woman’s age when pregnant, having more children, or having a family history of mood disorders or postpartum depression.

It is also worth noting that postpartum depression is not a minor issue. In many ways, it can be safely characterized as an under-discussed health crisis. Over 30% of mothers have some symptoms of postpartum depression, with as many as 1 in 7 women potentially having a diagnosed disorder. However, 50% of these women don’t receive any treatment. When untreated, postpartum depression can turn into more severe forms of depression and extensively damage the mother’s quality of life, as well as dismantle the bond between her, her baby, and the rest of her family. 

Resources

Depression After Your Baby’s Birth: Self-Care Steps To Take. This resource from University Hospitals has guidance for recognizing postpartum depression symptoms and helpful steps that mothers can take when they experience postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression. This overview from the Mayo Clinic includes information about symptoms and causes of postpartum depression, as well as diagnosis and treatment options.

Postpartum Psychosis. Postpartum Support International offers a wealth of information about emotional conditions experienced by women during pregnancy and postpartum, including this page describing postpartum psychosis.

How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last? 

As you can imagine, there’s no set answer to this question. Different women have very different experiences with postpartum depression, and it can vary based on a variety of factors.

The baby blues — the more minor version of postpartum depression — usually lasts for no more than a few weeks after delivery. However, postpartum depression can last much longer. Some studies find that postpartum depression can last for up to a year after its onset, and women who didn’t receive treatment for postpartum depression can show signs of it lasting for as long as three years.

There is good news. Treatment can help moderate, reduce, or eliminate symptoms and dramatically reduce the amount of time mothers suffering from postpartum depression will experience this sort of pain. Studies have found that 80% of women who receive treatment for postpartum depression will make a complete and full recovery.

Can Men Have Postpartum Depression? 

Postpartum depression is a specific set of circumstances caused by the birth of a child. As such, a man cannot have postpartum depression, at least in the same way that a woman experiences it. However, there is no question that a man can exhibit similar symptoms. This includes a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and more.

Men can also experience hormonal changes that come as the result of the birth of a baby. This comes for a variety of reasons, including the newness of the family environment, the lack of sleep, the pressure to be a good provider, and major changes in one’s overall life. Many of the symptoms experienced by men who go through this form of postpartum depression are similar to what women experience, but it is worth noting that men are more likely to express their depression in different ways. This includes frustration, anger, or cynicism. This aligns with other studies of depression, which have found that men and women experience and express the disorder in different ways.

Fortunately, like with women, men who seek treatment are likely to make a full and complete recovery. Men also have the biological advantage of having not given birth to the baby, meaning that the physical changes they will experience pale in comparison to those that are experienced by women. This does not mean that the disorder or pain is any less real, but it does reduce the pressure placed on men as a result of the birth of a child.

Self-Care Tips for Overcoming Postpartum Depression 

To be clear, postpartum depression is a very real disorder, one that will often require professional help to overcome. However, a woman experiencing postpartum depression is not powerless, and there are many self-care tips that she can use to help her overcome the disorder. 

  • First, lower your expectations. Becoming a new mother is hard. You will not get everything right. Your baby will cry. You will be sleep-deprived. Your house will be a mess. You will make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up over these issues, and acknowledge that this will be the case. You cannot expect perfection from yourself.
  • Seek to develop a support system — more on that below. 
  • Talk with others, including new mothers. While the real world is always better, there may be online resources that can be of assistance to you during this time. Many women have found very positive advice and experiences from online communities of women who have experienced postpartum depression, drawing hope and inspiration from people who have been able to move on from these issues. ‘
  • Finally, seek professional help. The baby blues may turn into something more serious, particularly a form of postpartum depression that requires professional treatment to overcome. Thankfully, these resources are available.

Develop a Support System 

One of the most important things you can do — particularly as a new parent — is to develop a support system that can help you get through the first few months of being a new mother. Doing so can help you overcome the natural difficulties that arise during this incredibly difficult time period. This can reduce your stress, give you more peace of mind, and give you the opportunity to physically recover from the extensive toll that being a new mother takes on your body. 

Developing a support system means learning to rely on others. This means that you’ll actually ask your friends and family to either do errands for you, watch the baby for a few hours so you can sleep, or just babysit and let you relax for a couple of hours. This is obviously easier if there are friends and family in your area, but not everyone has the luxury of having a Grandparent nearby that they can drop the baby off. As such, you may need to expand your network. Ask yourself: Are there resources, including friends, that you can rely on through your office? What about a local church group that may be willing to watch your kid for a few hours? Barring that, check in with local social services, and find out what assistance you may be able to get.  

Remember, self-care and a support system is not a luxury: It is a requirement. Having a child is an exceptionally difficult task, and you can only do it well if you have the help you need and deserve.

Postpartum Depression Treatment Options 

In some cases, you may find that your depression is not going away on its own but is getting worse. Or, you may find that your postpartum depression is causing a major negative impact on your life, impeding your ability to be a parent or function in society. If this happens, or if you feel extensive distress, you may need to seek professional help.

The good news, as noted above, is that postpartum depression is an eminently treatable condition. With help, you can recover.

Postpartum treatment comes in many forms.

The most common is talk therapy. In talk therapy, you will discuss the issues that you are facing with a professional counselor who is experienced in helping individuals manage the symptoms of their depression and the specific feelings and emotions that have begun to arise as a result of becoming a new mother. In these therapy sessions, you will talk about your feelings, explore why they are occurring, and learn to manage these issues. Changing the way you think may change the way you feel, and this can help you overcome your depression and better manage the challenges that you are feeling.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend that you start antidepressants, at least on a temporary basis. Antidepressants come in a variety of different forms, but all operate in roughly the same way: You take medication that helps you to feel better and think clearer. This, in turn, may allow for the talk therapy you are undergoing to stick better and allow you to feel better. 

In some cases, you may stop the antidepressants once you feel better. In other cases, you may find that you benefit from taking them and decide to continue taking the medication. Your doctor will work with you to find an antidepressant that has the fewest negative side effects and one that is safe for you to take, even if you are nursing.

Finally, a doctor may make a series of recommendations for your lifestyle. This is a more comprehensive approach to treating mental illness and one that may encompass specific recommendations for your work, eating habits, levels of exercise, social experience, and more. While these changes will likely not be the primary driver of your treatment, they can be excellent ways of supporting the work that you are already undergoing when it comes to recovery. 

It is important to note that all of these treatment methods will leave you exactly where you want to be: In your home, with your loved ones, and with your child. As you can see, these are all outpatient forms of treatment. As such, their disruption of your life will be minimal. Only in the most extreme cases of postpartum psychosis is hospitalization — voluntary or involuntary — considered. You should certainly speak with your therapist if you are having thoughts of violence to yourself or others, but very few women who are experiencing these issues actually require hospitalization. 

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