One in five women will experience postpartum depression. The same number, or more, will suffer from postpartum anxiety (let’s save this topic for another time). For many women, especially first-time mothers, the change from their baseline to being a new mother is so different that it is a challenge to make sense of any possible symptoms of depression.
Depression often leads to cognitive distortion, which further confuses the situation. For example, sometimes women think that their children would be better off without them, when this is clearly not true. They often attribute all the changes in thinking and behavior to being a new mother.
Surprisingly, with postpartum depression, some women do not feel sad, but may find themselves crying a lot. They are unable to clearly communicate why they are crying. Mothers who are depressed often feel guilty about their “lack of ability” and are hopeless about their situation.
Sleep is another important indicator. New moms obviously have a change in their sleep pattern. However, depressed women do not sleep when the baby is sleeps. The sleep deprivation further exacerbates their symptoms.
One of the most typical comments from new mothers who have postpartum depression is that they are overwhelmed and want to run away. A new mother is clearly going to be overwhelmed. However, in new mothers with postpartum depression, there is a lack of reserve and mental space to compartmentalize and rationalize their feelings. They do not believe that they are cut out to be mothers.
Many women have feelings toward their babies that are different than they expected, compared with the perfect way motherhood is often presented in the media. Depressed moms often describe just “going through the motions.” They may not be bonding with their babies or may feel empty or resentful. Irritability with respect to partners and other family members is another common feature of postpartum depression that is often stigmatized and not discussed. Their emotions feel out of control. Women will feel guilty, but are unable to change their actions. Their anger comes from the depression, not from a personality defect.
Women in general have difficulty asking for help. Unfortunately, that applies even after becoming a mother. Women are afraid of being judged or concerned that their child might be taken away. When women get desperate, they will seek out treatment. Unfortunately, this can be many months later, after much suffering.
Please reach out for help if you think you or someone you know might have postpartum depression. You can talk to your primary care doctor, obstetrician or a psychiatrist. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can get better. If you have any thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or your baby, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room to be evaluated. Safety is of utmost concern. Postpartum depression is a common postpartum complication that often requires medications and psychotherapy. It is treatable. One in five women have it; those who do should not feel alone or at fault. You can find more information at Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net.