Having a baby is an extremely significant experience, both physically and emotionally. We often hear about the intense joy, love, and pride that new moms experience after giving birth. Less commonly talked about are the intense and distressing feelings which can surface.
Given the change in hormones and the exhaustion which follows the birth, it's normal to feel overwhelmed and emotional. However, if these feelings don't subside after a few weeks and co-exist with deep sadness, guilt, and helplessness, this could indicate postpartum depression (PPD), also known as perinatal depression. If you are concerned that someone you love is experiencing postpartum depression, you will realize that it can be difficult to know how to respond. This blog will look at some helpful ways you can support someone with PPD.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a condition experienced by women after having a baby. Despite the fact it is not always talked about and commonly misunderstood, many women experience it. Research suggests around one in nine new moms will have a form of postpartum depression. PPD can occur up to a year after birth but often develops within the first month. People often refer to a low mood after having a baby as the 'baby blues'. However, this differs from the condition of PPD.
Distinguishing the normal exhaustion of new motherhood from a more serious mental health condition can be complex. Some signs of PPD overlap with major depressive disorder, while others are distinct to the condition. Below we look at some of the common symptoms of postpartum depression.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
- Low mood, feelings of helplessness most of the day
- Mood swings and fluctuating emotions
- Feeling angry or frustrated with others, including the baby
- Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Sleep issues – insomnia or sleeping a lot
- Difficulty concentrating on anything
- Changes in appetite – eating a lot or very little
- Guilt or shame about feelings
- Feeling inadequate or a bad mother
- Feeling anxious about the baby
- Not feeling a connection with the child
Postpartum depression can manifest in different ways, one sub-category of PPD is postpartum anxiety. Somebody with this condition may experience similar symptoms to the ones listed above but they are not likely to feel extremely depressed, rather these feelings will be replaced with extreme anxiety. As we mentioned above, feeling a certain amount of concern or worry for your new baby is normal, but if it is constant and you cannot ease the feelings it could indicate something more.
Somebody who has postpartum anxiety may have intense feelings of fear that something bad will happen to their baby or other family members. They may also experience racing thoughts and escalating scenarios. Additionally, it could bring physical symptoms which are associated with an anxiety disorder such as heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, and nausea.
Postpartum psychosis is a distinct but related postpartum mood disorder. As a serious mental health condition, postpartum psychosis requires immediate medical attention. Like with PPD, postpartum psychosis typically develops in the initial two weeks after birth.
Some symptoms overlap, such as an extremely low mood, feelings of anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. However, there are additional symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations, where the mother may hear or see things that aren't truly there, delusions where she believes things to be true that are not, and mania where she will experience extremes of fluctuating mood.
Somebody with postpartum psychosis may feel extremely suspicious and paranoid of those around them which can lead to isolation and confusion. It's crucial to access professional medical support if you or someone you know is showing signs of psychosis after having a baby. This is because they are at an increased risk of suicide.
Who Gets Postpartum Depression?
Much like other mental health conditions, there is not one cause for postpartum depression, rather it is thought that several factors contribute to the development of the condition. Most moms feel some form of the baby blues after giving birth, but if this continues and develops it could indicate the presence of PPD. Research suggests that between 10% and 15% of new mothers experience postpartum depression, but unfortunately a significant number of these women do not access help.
Postpartum depression is thought to be related to the following factors:
- A history of mental illness
- Anxiety or depression during the pregnancy
- Stressful life events or trauma
- Isolation or lack of social support leading up to, during, and after pregnancy
- Having low self-confidence
- Experiencing a traumatic or problematic birth
- Previously experiencing a miscarriage
- A difficult relationship with your own mother
How You Can Help
Seeing a friend or loved one in distress can be extremely upsetting, but knowing how to help is not always easy. Every new mother is different, and cases of PDD should be considered under the specific circumstances of each woman. Below we look at some ways to help someone who is experiencing postpartum depression.
1. Listen to How She Feels
It can be tempting to dismiss feelings of sadness and remind new moms how lucky they are. This type of response is only going to make them feel more guilty and isolated. You might feel tempted to respond with a seemingly positive reassurance, 'you're a great mom, don't worry!'. Instead, listen to what she is saying and how she feels and encourage her to be honest about what is going on for her. Validating these feelings is not going to make your friend or loved one feel worse, rather it will show you care and that she is not alone.
2. Support Her
Somebody experiencing postpartum depression is likely to feel afraid and worried about the future. She may believe her symptoms will never fade, and she will always feel this way. Try to reassure her that things will be okay without dismissing or belittling her feelings. Encourage her that with treatment, she will begin to feel brighter and happier, and motherhood will become an enriching and joyous experience. There is a common misconception that PPD is a minor issue, but it is a significant medical condition that needs time and compassionate care to overcome.
3. Accompany Her to Appointments
Showing your support to your friend or loved one through your physical presence can go far. Accepting help for postpartum depression can be extremely difficult for new moms. Due to the stigmatization of PPD, there are often feelings of guilt and shame around the condition. Accompanying your loved one to the initial doctor appointment can encourage her to make the first step, and to continue reaching out. Additionally, it may be difficult for her to express exactly what she is going through and how she is struggling, you can offer gentle nudges to make sure everything is covered.
You can also accompany the new mother to local support groups in the area. Sharing stories and advice with people who can truly relate is likely to be extremely beneficial. Research the groups around and offer to attend with her on a regular basis.
4. Make Plans and Follow Through
As a new mom, making decisions and plans can be difficult regardless of your mental well-being. This is intensified with symptoms of PPD, so it can help to take initiative and make plans yourself. This doesn't need to be overbearing, and it can be simple things such as bringing over a cooked meal or coming over to pick up mother and baby for a walk in the park.
Being consistent, initiating plans, and following through will show how supportive you are and can make a big difference.
5. Trust Her
One of the major feelings of somebody who is experiencing postpartum depression is feeling inadequate and a failure. By showing her you trust what she is saying, how she is feeling, and how she wants to move forwards you will encourage her to believe that she is capable.
Maintaining Mental Wellbeing
One of the most important aspects in treating and preventing postpartum depression is maintaining a good level of mental health. Being a new mother is overwhelming and exhausting, but there has to be some time for mom too. As a friend, partner, or family member, you can help by facilitating good mental health practices. This can mean encouraging time outside in the fresh air, enabling time for relaxation such as baths and yoga, or establishing meal routines which may include meal planning together or cooking for your loved one.
Furthermore, maintaining your own mental health is crucial. It may feel as though, without a diagnosis, you are not the priority. This is not a healthy way to approach the situation. To offer emotional support to someone else, you must look after yourself and ensure your own needs are met, so make time in your own week for self-care practices. In some cases, this may mean enlisting further help from a friend, loved one, or mental health provider.
Seek Professional Advice
Postpartum depression is a serious mental health issue and should be treated as one. A healthcare provider can offer a proper diagnosis and will be able to distinguish between natural baby blues and a more serious case of PPD.
Screening for Postpartum Depression
Although there is not a specific test for PPD, a doctor or mental health care provider will go through symptoms and health history and may make some physical examinations. This helps them to build an accurate picture of what is being experienced and can lead to a diagnosis.
The doctor will ask several questions related to the mother's mental well-being and the presence of depression symptoms. It's important the mom feels able to honestly explain her feelings otherwise it makes accessing help more difficult. This depression screening enables the doctor to diagnose postpartum depression and suggest pathways for professional treatment.
There is a commonly used scale that was first devised in Britain, called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, that is used to screen for postpartum depression. The scale asks questions related to feelings of depression, sleep issues, the prevalence of crying spells, and more. A higher score indicates an increased likelihood of postpartum mood disorder.
These questionnaires are available online but it is best to seek professional help and go through these questions together. If a mom is already feeling vulnerable, it can be scary to face the reality of PPD alone.
If your doctor predicts possible postpartum depression, they will help you devise an appropriate treatment plan.
The good news is, with the right support and treatment, women can heal from postpartum depression and go on to experience a rich and fulfilling motherhood.
A mom's mental health during and after pregnancy is so important for the relationship between parent and child, not only with a newborn but throughout their lives.
Therapy and Counseling
The first route for treatment is usually counseling and talk therapy. This can take a number of forms depending on what your symptoms are and how much they are interfering with your life. Usually, therapy will take place in an outpatient setting, but for more severe cases, including postpartum psychosis, residential treatment may be recommended.
Additionally, talk therapy could include individual sessions, group sessions, or family therapy. Usually, these will be based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help someone to identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more helpful responses. CBT can offer new moms healthy coping mechanisms to work through any challenges ahead.
Some women will benefit from medication to treat postpartum depression. This would usually include antidepressants, and they are likely to be used in conjunction with CBT.
Just like medication for other forms of depression, antidepressants for PPD come in several forms. The most commonly used in postpartum depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These work by restoring the chemical balance in the brain, which dictates emotions and mood regulation.
Always seek professional advice before considering antidepressants and ask your doctor to explain all of the possible outcomes and side effects of the medication before beginning treatment.
Experiencing depression after having a baby can be extremely difficult to manage and can impact many areas of life. Seeking help can enable new mothers to begin to take pleasure and happiness in their role as a parent.
If you or someone you love is feeling depressed after having a baby, we can support you at Cornerstone treatment center. We offer a range of therapy programs to support women who are experiencing postpartum depression. Our diverse team of specialists take a person-centered approach to treatment, using evidence-based modalities to achieve long-lasting results.
We know how isolating it can feel to be a new mother who is experiencing depression, but we have confidence that through our treatment you can find your way with motherhood.
Get in touch with our team at Cornerstone today to find out more about our treatment options and admissions process. One of our team will be ready to take your call.