It’s normal to feel like you’re riding an emotional roller coaster for a couple of few weeks after your baby is born.
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But those wild mood swings should gradually even out. You may feel tired and stressed, but you shouldn’t cry, or feel sad or angry, all the time.
When the “baby blues” start morphing into postpartum depression, it’s time to seek help.
Ability to function impacted
Between 50 and 75 percent of new moms get the “baby blues.” But just one in 10 develops postpartum depression.
“Baby blues are very common and last a short time — about two weeks,” says Ob/Gyn Mary Taylor, MD. “Postpartum depression symptoms are more severe, last longer and affect your ability to function on a daily basis.”
Here’s what you need to know about identifying and treating postpartum depression.
Signs to watch for
If’ you’re suffering from postpartum depression, you may experience frequent bouts of crying or chronic feelings of sadness, anger or guilt. Some women notice a decreased appetite, fatigue or insomnia.
Here’s an example: It’s common for new moms to worry about the well-being of their infant. But if you’re so terrified that you can’t leave your napping baby’s bedside, that’s a sign of postpartum depression.
“Not everyone shows all these symptoms,” Dr. Taylor notes.
Your symptoms may appear soon after your baby’s birth or at any time during the first year, she says.
What increases your risk
If you have a history of depression, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or postpartum depression with an earlier pregnancy, your risk for postpartum depression is higher.
Other risk factors may include:
- Marital conflict.
- Stressful, non-supportive environment at home.
- Traumatic birth or infant hospitalization.
- Poverty and other social challenges.
- Young or single mothers.
- Autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis.
- Unwanted pregnancy.
Most doctors screen for depression during your pregnancy, then again for postpartum depression at your first post-delivery checkup (typically at six weeks), Dr. Taylor says.
She talks to patients and uses the short screening test called Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“If a woman tests positive during pregnancy screening, I encourage her to see a therapist before it becomes a bigger problem,” Dr. Taylor says.
Typically, though, postpartum depression is first diagnosed at the first checkup after delivery.
3 treatment options
- Talk therapy. Talking with a mental health professional helps many women work through postpartum depression, Dr. Taylor says.
- Antidepressants. Your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medication. “Most patients don’t want to go right to medications because they are breastfeeding and worry about side effects,” she says. “Talk to your doctor. Certain antidepressants are safer than others and have no ill effects on the baby.” Typically, your doctor will prescribe antidepressants for six months to one year.
- Sharing with others. A support group with other new moms, and moms experiencing postpartum depression can help you feel better, and remind you that you’re not alone.
The good news is that, with help, most women can overcome postpartum depression and feel better.
In rare cases, however, postpartum psychosis — a severe form of postpartum depression that includes hallucinations and suicidal or homicidal thoughts — can develop. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate medical attention.
The important thing is to reach out for help if you suspect you have a problem.
“You may think what you are going through is normal, but if you are struggling, it’s not normal,” Dr. Taylor says. “Call us. We’re here to help.”