Ever since my own personal struggle with postpartum depression, I am determined to create awareness about how serious of an issue it is and how surprisingly common it is in new mothers. One of the biggest concerns is that not enough people know or understand what postpartum depression is or what symptoms to look for. One of my final projects as a senior obtaining my degree was to develop a series of articles centered around educating the public about postpartum depression. I wanted to share some of the things that I found in my research and the information in this post is taken from that project.
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that occurs after childbirth. The first 1 to 2 weeks after giving birth are generally emotional for mothers as their bodies try to regulate all of the hormones that are processing after the occurrence of childbirth. According to an article by News In Health, an approximate 50% to 80% of women experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, and/or depression during this time, a process called, the Baby Blues. These feelings clear up after a couple of weeks. When these feelings do not clear up however, a more serious issue may be occurring.
Postpartum depression begins within a few weeks of birth (usually starting with Baby Blues) and can last up to 1-2 years following that point. The problem is that many women think of postpartum depression as simply “feeling sad,” so if they don’t have feelings that they register immediately as being sad their condition continues to go undiagnosed.
Depression is much more than just feeling sad though, it is a mental illness, and there are a number of other symptoms that are tied to it. There are many common symptoms specific to postpartum depression that are good to watch for if you think you or someone you know might be experiencing it. One of the main symptoms of postpartum depression is a major decrease in energy. Simple tasks seem daunting and things that were easy to do before become exhausting. Part of this might be from the emotional state depression puts you in, but it can also be caused by the change in sleep and eating patterns that women experiencing postpartum depression also have. You might feel tired regularly but still have difficulty sleeping. Often women tend to overeat or forget to eat all together. A lack of appetite and experiencing insomnia or not getting good sleep can both attribute to the lack of energy.
Additionally, women with postpartum depression might lack motivation to do anything. This is partially due to low energy levels, but it also increases the likeliness of lower energy levels because there is no motivation to have energy in the first place.
While sadness is common in postpartum depression, other emotions are typically present as well. According to the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, mothers often experience feelings of irrational anger, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness. These feelings sometimes lead to harsher thoughts of self-criticism, disinterest in the baby, or even thoughts of harming the baby or self. Another common feeling that mothers describe is of emptiness. This is a feeling common with any type of depression in general. A description of some of these emotions and the effect they play in postpartum depression are found in an article by Women’sHealth found at this link here. In an example, through multiple instances of interviews over a variety of media with author J.K. Rowling, creator of the infamous Harry Potter series, she discusses the feelings she struggled with when she suffered depression after having a baby. She actually created a type of character in her book based on her experience with depression, the dementors, to help readers understand those feelings of hopelessness and emptiness. Below is a compilation of statements from J.K. Rowling about her experience.
Another symptom of postpartum depression that is fairly significant is the tendency to withdraw from people. Mothers will withdraw from friends, stay away from social events, and become introverted around others, including family. They tend to be antisocial and uninterested in things or activities that once they found pleasure in.
According to the Center for Postpartum Health, when mothers experience postpartum depression they usually exhibit symptoms of anxiety even more-so than feelings of being depressed. This often is linked to women having obsessive thoughts about harm coming to their family or particularly, to their baby and occurs in 3%-5% of women. These thoughts can lead to a mother feeling so consumed by them or by compulsions to counteract the thoughts that their behavior makes them incapable of properly caring for themselves or their new little one (PostpartumHealth.com).
One of the main changes in behavior that women experience with postpartum depression is the lack of ability to care for themselves. Tasks such as showering, taking proper medications, getting ready for the day, eating normally, and even small things like brushing teeth or hair become a significant challenge. Often a mother will be inadequate to care for herself during time of postpartum depression. To share a personal experience, I would have a difficult time remembering to shower. If I could remember, it felt too difficult to do so. I would go more than just a few days without showering because I literally felt physically incapable of doing so. The inability to take care of yourself or your child are one of the main symptoms to look for when struggling with postpartum depression, and at that point it is usually recommended by doctors to consider treatment options.
Postpartum depression may effect women differently, some experiencing all or just a few of these symptoms. Feeling sadness is not the only symptom of postpartum depression, but any of these symptoms might be pointing towards that conclusion. The key is to recognize these symptoms as symptoms of postpartum depression so that steps toward recovery can be made sooner.
Sources cited for this article:
Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 2013, Vol.58(6), pp.719-720
“Postpartum Depression.” Pearlstein, Teri; Howard, Margaret; Salisbury, Amy; Zlotnick, Caron. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2009. Vol.20094), pp. 357-364