Crying, not sleeping through the night and feeding problems are common when you welcome a new baby.
Just to be clear, we’re not just talking about the infant.
It can be true for new parents, too!
“Postpartum depression can be a complication of giving birth,” said Petra Zdenkova, PsyD, a psychologist with Samaritan Obstetrics & Gynecology – Corvallis. “Try to practice self-compassion and give yourself grace.”
Dr. Zdenkova explains that it’s not a sign of weakness if you experience mood swings or are feeling down. It could be postpartum depression.
Baby Blues Vs. Postpartum Depression
In the first couple weeks after baby arrives, most parents report feeling sad or moody. Up to 80 percent will experience some symptoms of baby blues, including feeling anxious, irritability, crying, lack of concentration and trouble eating or sleeping. Hormone changes are most likely the cause, which can be exacerbated by lack of sleep.
“It’s also normal to feel a little nervous about caring for your baby,” Dr. Zdenkova said.
These symptoms typically improve.
“The baby blues only last up to two weeks,” Dr. Zdenkova said. “Postpartum depression lasts longer and the symptoms are more severe.”
Postpartum depression can happen up to a year after baby’s arrival, although it is most common around the three- to four-month mark after giving birth.
How can you tell the difference? A health care provider can screen for postpartum depression and provide treatment if it’s needed to prevent your symptoms from worsening.
“You are not alone,” Dr. Zdenkova said. “Postpartum depression is treatable, and things will get better.”
Every Birth Can Be Different
If you or someone in your family has previously experienced postpartum depression, depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, it increases your risk that you could experience the symptoms again if you have another baby.
But it does not automatically determine that it will happen again. About 15% of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
Likewise, if you did not experience postpartum depression after a previous birth, it does not mean that it won’t ever happen. Other factors can contribute to or increase the risk, such as social support and resources, sleep and stress.
“There is no way of knowing for certain whether someone will develop postpartum depression,” Dr. Zdenkova said.
When Should I Seek Help?
A person suffering from postpartum depression might not recognize they need help. This could be because they aren’t aware of the signs and symptoms.
“There are also social expectations that having a baby should be happy and exciting,” Dr. Zdenkova said.
When someone experiences any of the following, it’s time to get help:
- Thoughts of harming themselves or their baby.
- Overpowering feelings of sadness, panic or guilt.
- Appetite changes, no energy, weight loss or gain.
If you or your loved one is struggling, don’t wait for things to get better on their own.
“I would encourage you to get medical attention right away,” Dr. Zdenkova said.
Postpartum Depression Can Affect Both Parents
About 10 percent of new fathers also experience postpartum depression. Studies have shown that changes in routines can leave both parents feeling overwhelmed, anxious or exhausted.
If a father is shouldering more responsibility than before the baby arrived, including financial, it can put him at greater risk of postpartum depression.
“Postpartum depression in fathers is treated in many of the same ways that it is for mothers,” Dr. Zdenkova said.
Unlike birthing individuals who have a six-week medical checkup, their partners may need to take the initiative of talking to a health care provider if they experience symptoms.
How to Help a Friend or Loved One
Families with new babies need lots of support and it can be hard to ask for help.
“Rather than waiting to be asked, ask how you can provide support,” Dr. Zdenkova said.
She also suggested some things for friends and family to do to relieve the stress of having a new baby at home.
- Ask how they are doing. Talking things out can help people to cope.
- Invite them on a walk. Exercise reduces anxiety and improves self-esteem.
- Prepare a healthy meal. Nutritious food improves our mood and sustains us.
- Give them a break. Doing household chores or watching older children allows them to rest.
Join a local virtual support group for new moms.
The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline is 1-833-TLC-MAMA (833-852-6262). To learn more about postpartum depression and find resources for help, Dr. Zdenkova recommends Postpartum Support International.