This was me in 2004. I was in the pit of postpartum depression. Funny thing about depression, you don’t realize you have it when you’re going through it. You’re at the bottom of a hole and nothing makes sense. Being responsible for a new life only makes the hole deeper. It was a BAD place for me and my baby.
I was at risk for postpartum depression before I even had my baby. Type A personalities who like to schedule everything are at risk. People who need their sleep and routine are at risk. I was also a control freak.. biggest mistake of my life was telling my Mom and Dad that they could be present at the birth but then I wanted them to go home because “I wanted to bond with my family — just the three of us.” BONEHEAD MOVE. Accept ANY and ALL help!!
My baby was colicky and slept only 30 minutes at most. He’d wake up screaming and writhing from what looked like a sound sleep. Breastfeeding was not going well. My nipples were scabbed over. But I wanted it to work, so I kept at it. The first 4 months were a blur. I do remember my baby sleeping for more than an hour once. I didn’t sleep. I just laid awake listening for him to stir. He wasn’t making any noise. I knew I should get up and check on him, but I remember thinking, if he’s died… at least he’ll be quiet….. Even after having that thought, I didn’t seek help. I just stayed closed up in my house with my baby. I really didn’t want much to do with him, but I was a control freak and wouldn’t let anyone else touch him either. When we did go out, I was completely freaked out anytime someone would touch him or hold him. Such an awful time. I remember trying to put on a happy face, and I think I fooled a lot of people. People expect you to be harried and strung out as a new Mom. Very few people came and sat with me and my baby. All my friends had busy jobs, and I didn’t know any other new Moms.
New moms are more isolated today than ever before. We have smart phones and social media, so we *think* we’re connected, but we’re really alone. Friends may bring a meal or attend your baby shower, but then you’re back at it on your own FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE TIME. When you’re a new mom, you NEED a community of people around you. People to hold your baby. Give you a break. Help with the laundry. Give you time to take a nap.
If my neighbor hadn’t connected me to a new parents support group, I’m not sure I’d be here today. I met Moms and Dads in that group and they asked me to go for a walk EVERY DAY. I wasn’t interested, but they were persistent. One of the Moms in that group said she was struggling with postpartum depression. She describe it as “crying all the time, not being able to sleep, feeling totally incompetent and lost.” After my first outing with the parents in that group, I called my husband and asked him if he thought I had postpartum depression. He screamed through the phone: YES! YES! YES! He told me we’d discussed it. I totally didn’t remember that discussion! I made a doctor’s appointment that day, and my life started to change.
That parents group was life-changing. I found friendship, support, exercise (and an RX for a little Zoloft) and it saved my life. Also helped create a little company called Oh Baby! Fitness. I knew I wanted to bring that life-saving connection to every other Mom in my community. #RealMotherhood #NoShame Please share your own story in the comments.
Despite what you may have heard, the maternal instinct is not a switch that flips once the baby comes into the world. For many moms, it’s learned over time and through a collection of experiences and support from other mothers. Let new moms in your life know that this is a journey. They may not have all the answers yet, but they will find their way.
During your pregnancy (not after!) make sure to know the signs and symptoms of baby blues (they last a few days or a couple of weeks) and the symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis and obsessive compulsive disorder (there’s a risk if these symptoms are still present after the first two weeks.)
Baby Blues Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of baby blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born — may include:
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin later — up to six months after birth.
It is common to be very emotional for no apparent reason but if you are past two weeks postpartum and you are uncomfortable about being alone with your baby, if you cry all the time, or think that you are not bonding like you “should”, call your provider. If you feel like you cannot get out of bed to feed when your baby cries or that you made a mistake taking on motherhood, call your provider.
Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.
MOST IMPORTANT – DO THIS WHEN YOU’RE PREGNANT!!
- Make sure you have a list of people who you can talk to honestly.
- Make sure your partner, friends and family members know the symptoms of depression and anxiety. You may be like I was and not know you’re in trouble.
- Join a group fitness class (all pregnant mamas if you can find one) These women will become your lifeline after you’ve had your baby.
- Find out if you’re at risk for postpartum depression.
RISK FACTORS: (taken from Postpartum Progress)
If you have experienced a period of or been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, or other such illness in your life, then you clearly have a higher risk for getting a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression. But there are many risk factors for these illnesses besides having a family member that has a psychiatric disorder or episode or having a history of one yourself—things that most moms don’t know about.
These risk factors include:
- A traumatic pregnancy or birth: Did you or do you have hyperemesis gravidarum? Were you or are you on bed rest? Did you have an emergency c-section or other complications during delivery? Was your baby in the NICU? Did something that you found very frightening happen to either you or your baby during pregnancy, during birth, or after the birth?
- An experience with emotionally painful or stressful experiences around pregnancy, childbirth and/or early parenting: Did you struggle with and/or were you treated for infertility? Have you suffered a previous miscarriage or other pregnancy loss? Did you just deliver multiples? Do you have a special needs baby? Does your baby have colic or a difficult temperament? Have you had difficulty with feeding your baby?
- A history of domestic violence, sexual or other abuse: Were you abused as a child, or have you been as an adult?
- A traumatic childhood: Did you have a traumatic childhood? Did you lose a parent? Did you have a troubling relationship with your own mother? Trauma as a child can have a VERY big impact on your emotional health as an adult, even if you think you’re “over it” and it’s “in the past.”
- Stress: This is such a big one, and it surprises people, because everyone has stress right? But there are major stressors that can tip your brain over the proverbial edge. These include the loss of someone close to you, a job loss, financial hardship, divorce or strain in your relationship with your partner, and even a house move. Big changes in your life can have a big impact on your emotional health.
- Lack of social support: Do you feel alone and as though you have no one to help you? Do you live far from your family and close friends? Do you feel like when you need help there is absolutely no one to ask? Are you a military wife whose partner is deployed?
- Personality: Are you a perfectionist? Do you have a controlling personality? Do you have low self-esteem? This is not so much a risk factor but studies are showing there is, as Karen Kleiman calls it, a “clinically relevant” relationship between this type of personality and having PPD or anxiety.
Any of these things can mean you are more likely to get postpartum depression or a related illness than the mom next to you. They’re not a guarantee, but they raise your risk. And someone should tell you that. You should know about that.
You should know about postpartum depression risk factors. You should know that bipolar episodes raise your risk of postpartum psychosis. You should know whether you might end up having postpartum OCD and intrusive thoughts.
Because if you and every other mom knows, then she can be prepared. She can be read to learn what the symptoms are and identify them in herself. She can know that she needs to reach out for help and figure out who might be able to help her in her town. She can make sure her family or friends or someone in the community who cares are at the ready.