Do I Have Postpartum Depression?
Bringing a new child into the world is a huge life change and all life changes alter your emotional landscape, sometimes in ways that are unwanted or unexpected. After childbirth, it's common for a mother to experience a period of sadness, feelings of hopelessness and emptiness. Yet, most of these baby blues go away within the first week or two. Post-pregnancy—mothers who continue to have these feelings for more than two weeks may be suffering from postpartum depression.
“Postpartum” refers to the time after childbirth, but that doesn’t mean every mother should be on a specific timeline when it comes to their feelings after delivery. Experiencing some of the following symptoms for an extended period is normal, and it doesn’t determine your worth, future, or potential to be an excellent mother. Informing yourself about postpartum depression will help you understand how all of these physical body changes are impacting your thoughts. Understanding the symptoms and how mothers develop postpartum depression can be a first step in letting go of the secondary feelings of embarrassment, guilt, or shame you may have in reaction to the depression.
How common is postpartum depression?
Studies show that one in nine mothers suffer from postpartum depression, which is just over 10%. Seventy percent of mothers experience the short term “baby blues."
What causes postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a biochemical reaction that can be linked to several factors, and while every mother is different, here are some of the most likely causes:
Family or personal history of depression – Mothers that are genetically predisposed to postpartum depression are more susceptible to the illness. This means that women who have one or more family members that have suffered from postpartum depression are at a greater risk of developing it.
Also, mothers who have a history of mood disorders, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, are 30-35% more likely to develop postpartum depression. Mothers who have already experienced it from previous childbirth are also more likely to experience it again.
Increased stressors and environmental factors - Major life changes after childbirth impact new types and levels of stress, from emotional to physical. High levels of stress negatively affect sleep levels, too, which can determine how a mom feels, and the level to which she can take on the responsibilities surrounding caring for her child. In this way, the lack of consistent sleep exacerbates and triggers other symptoms of postpartum depression. Inconsistent sleep and inadequate nutrition, along with different strains, can also lead to physical aches and pains.
Hormonal changes - A mother experiences record-high levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy. But after birth, both of these levels quickly drop, which is the reason mood swings occur. This shift in hormone levels also contributes to anxiety, irritability, and sadness.
Oxytocin is the “bonding hormone” released after birth, but it also triggers maternal behaviors, causing moms to sense any present danger in their child’s life, thereby increasing anxiety. Progesterone, on the other hand, is meant to help combat some of the stress, but with the decrease in progesterone after delivery, anxiety becomes more difficult to manage. Even if you are suffering from postpartum depression for an extended period, these hormones will eventually find balance again.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
While the symptoms for postpartum depression can be mild to severe, depending on the mother, it is a serious mental illness that impacts mental health, behavior, and physical health. It can interfere with your ability to connect to and care for your baby.
Seek professional help from your doctor, midwife, or nurse, if you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks:
Our nation is experiencing a pandemic, social isolation, economic anxiety and natural disasters. Anxiety and depression are at an all time high, especially for mothers. From worry of exposure to COVID-19, to bringing a child into the world at a time when the future holds more unknowns than it already did, the fear for new moms has been exacerbated.
If you are a mother living with postpartum depression, remember that you have done nothing wrong. You are not a bad mother; you are just one of many mothers who also feel this way. We recommend a circle of support; your physician, a support group, a psychiatrist and a therapist who specializes in working with new mothers.
Dr. Engler's Articles on the Huffington Post:
Should You Get Pre-marital Counseling?
Women's Health Magazine interviews Dr. Engler on the factors to consider.
Why Moving in Together Kills Your Sex Life, and What to Do About It.
Men's Health Magazine interviews Dr. Engler about how to improve your sex life, and reviews her book, "The Men on My Couch."
11 Things That Actually Surprised This Sex Therapist.
BuzzFeed reviews Dr. Engler's new book, "The Women on My Couch."