May is Mental Health Awareness month so let’s discuss postpartum depression (PPD). 1 in 5 women suffer from PPD, and this is likely a gross underestimate. It may not look like what you think. Studies show that most women try to hide it, and they do this for many different reasons:

  • Stigma
  • Denial
  • Fear of not being a good mom
  • Fear of being seen as weak

But we need to bring awareness so we can recognize and help our new mothers. That includes me. I’ve suffered from depression my entire life, and have been treated and well controlled since college. I knew all the signs and symptoms. But the PPD sneaks up on you. The sleep deprivation, the responsibility, the lack of societal support structure – it can lead down a very dark and lonely road. The anxiety can be crippling, the intrusive thoughts of worry overwhelming, constantly thinking “what if.” If these thoughts are taking over, that is not normal. Do not trick yourself into believing it is normal new mom worries. It is not.

What’s the difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues?

Postpartum depression and the baby blues are two distinct but common mood disorders commonly see after giving birth. The baby blues typically involve mild mood swings, tearfulness, anxiety, and fatigue that often peak within the first few weeks post-delivery and typically resolve on their own without specific treatment. In contrast, postpartum depression involves more persistent and severe symptoms such as:

  • Intense sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby

These symptoms often last beyond the initial postpartum period. Postpartum depression requires professional evaluation and intervention, including therapy, medication, or support services. Do not be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.

Questions to help decide if you have PPD

  1. Have I been feeling persistently sad, hopeless, or empty for an extended period since giving birth?
  2. Do I find it challenging to bond with my baby or experience feelings of detachment or disinterest in caring for them?
  3. Have my sleep patterns significantly changed, either through insomnia or excessive sleeping?
  4. Am I experiencing heightened anxiety, irritability, or mood swings that interfere with daily functioning?
  5. Have I lost interest in activities I once enjoyed or feel a lack of motivation to engage in daily tasks?
  6. Do I have thoughts of harming myself or the baby, or do I feel overwhelmed by responsibilities to the point of desperation?
  7. Have I noticed changes in appetite, weight, or physical health that are unrelated to typical postpartum recovery?
  8. Do I feel isolated or disconnected from loved ones?
  9. Have I experienced persistent physical symptoms like headaches, stomach issues, or unexplained pain alongside emotional distress?
  10. Am I finding it difficult to cope with the demands of motherhood and adjusting to life after childbirth, feeling overwhelmed or unable to seek joy in everyday moments?

Where to seek help for your mental health

Seek help from mental health professionals such as therapists, counselors, or psychiatrists who specialize in postpartum mood disorders. They can offer personalized treatment options, including therapy and medication if needed. It can take a while to find a therapist that’s a right fit for you, so don’t give up.

Support groups, both in-person and online, can connect you with others going through similar experiences. Non-profit organizations like Postpartum Support International (PSI) offer resources, information, and helplines. Additionally, speak to your healthcare provider, OBGYN, or pediatrician to help ensure proper diagnosis and access to appropriate treatment.

I am lucky enough to have easy access to resources, which helped me tremendously. But my pretty smiling pictures from those early days are fake. I hid it from everyone, continued to be the high functioning professional woman that I was, only to come home and feel defeated and unworthy. It’s easy to see it in retrospect, and now I can spot it in patients a mile away. But others need to know as well.

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