Many women go through some emotional ups and downs when they have a baby. Pregnancy, childbirth, and adjusting to the realities of a baby create physical, mental, and hormonal changes, as well as shifts in relationships at home. New mothers may find themselves feeling overwhelmed, tired, tearful, and emotional-sometimes without being able to explain why. This can all be normal and expected, especially during the first few days and up to two weeks after birth. How, then, does a mother or her family know when the symptoms need treatment from a professional and fall under the category of something more than “baby blues”?
One of the most important differences between being “blue” and something like postpartum depression or anxiety is the timing of the symptoms. If symptoms last longer than two weeks after the birth, we are past the “blues” category. Awareness about the timing of symptoms can mean the difference between someone getting help or not. Sometimes women recognize that they aren’t feeling like themselves but are told by friends, family, and even medical professionals that what they are experiencing is “normal,” even when the symptoms are present well after that two-week cut-off point.
Unfortunately, this can cause things to worsen and can be dangerous in some situations. In addition, it puts the mother in the unfair position of needing to advocate for herself when she is especially vulnerable.
We also look at the severity of the symptoms and whether or not they are having a negative impact on the person’s life. A mother experiencing the blues might feel tired and overwhelmed but still feels like herself and can recognize that her feelings are temporary and that she will feel better with some rest and some time. Someone struggling with depression, however, might feel hopeless and like things will never be okay, or might have negative thoughts about themselves and their abilities as a mother.
Another symptom of depression that is often overlooked is unexplained or frequent anger, irritability, and rage. Professional help is needed right away anytime a person has thoughts of harming themselves or someone else. Many people don’t realize that thoughts about not wanting to “be here” or “do this” anymore fall under self-harm and need attention. Excessive worry and intrusive, scary thoughts are also common signs to watch out for, especially when the fears and anxiety prevent a person from enjoying life and their baby.
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of postpartum depression, anxiety, or other struggles, help is available. It’s important for parents to know that they aren’t alone and didn’t do anything to cause these symptoms. Working with a medical provider and a trained therapist who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is always recommended, as is frequent screening by professionals. There is treatment, and there is hope.
For more information about resources in Arizona, visit https://psiarizona.org.