Eighty-five percent of women experience baby blues; ten to fifteen percent go on to have post-partum depression. Baby blues typically resolve within six weeks post-partum.; whereas post-partum depression can begin anytime in the first year after delivery.
Baby Blues and Post-Partum Depression: Why They Occur and How to Tell the Difference: How to Know When you Need Help
A momentous hormonal shift occurs in the first two weeks post-partum.
Imagine this: At the end of pregnancy your brain is awash in a sea of progesterone and estrogen. Your endorphin levels (the body’s “happy molecules”) are high because estrogen and progesterone increase your innate endorphin levels. Moreover, progesterone is an anxiolytic—it sort of acts like valium in calming the nerves and contributing to a sensation of “mellowness”.
Now this: After the baby and placenta come out of your body, your estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. Think of it as falling off a cliff. Moreover, your milk hormone, prolactin increases dramatically in the first few days. Prolactin eventually suppresses your estrogen and progesterone levels close to those of a menopausal woman. Luckily, prolactin and breastfeeding also stimulate the innate endorphins; so in some instances breast-feeding may be protective against post-partum depression.
There’s a two week window in the post-partum period, between delivery of the baby and onset of consistently high prolactin levels, when you’re likely to experience maximum “baby blues”. Baby blues are like the worst case of PMS you’ve ever had: You’re on an emotional roller coaster because your endorphin levels are all over the place. One minute you’re blissfully happy with your perfect newborn; the next you’re weeping uncontrollably. The onset of baby blues often corresponds to the Night of Inconsolable Crying or to breastfeeding difficulties.
Remember this: baby blues are transitional and you can ride them out. Baby blues respond to a change in scenery, sleep, and some help from your spouse. If you’re in a deep well of crying go for a thirty minute brisk walk. The physical activity and fresh air will instantly brighten your mood. Don’t over-extend. Lots of company in the first week post-partum can be stressful. Too many visitors? Just Say No (thank you).
Postpartum depression is characterized by:
- Feelings of Constant or Recurring Anxiety
- Loss of Control
- Loneliness, Dysphoria (feelings of gloom)
- Feeling inadequate as a parent; unrealistic expectations of parenthood
- Feelings of impending doom such as loss of or harm to a loved one
- Feeling emotionally detached from the baby
- Lack of motivation to care for yourself and/or the baby
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
Physical symptoms often accompany the emotional side of postpartum depression. These include:
- Sleep disorders: insomnia and/or inability to get out of bed in the morning
- Appetite changes: Lack of appetite or overeating for comfort
- Stomach upset, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea
- Decrease in milk supply
Risk factors for postpartum depression include:
- History in yourself or a family member of anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder
- Financial stressors
- Housing stressors
- Marital stressors
- Depression during pregnancy
- Low self esteem
- Physical Isolation (being home alone all day with the baby)
Contact your health care provider if you feel you’re experiencing postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can be serious but it responds to good self-care measures such as changes in your family support structure, exercise, good sleep habits, healthful nutrition; in addition to counseling and antidepressants if these are indicated.
Feelings of Detachment
It is not unusual for new moms and dads to undergo brief periods of detachment and other surprising post-partum symptoms. From time to time you may wonder, “What on earth have we done?” Being a new parent can cause you to relive some of the experiences of your childhood and being parented by your parents. These may be positive or negative. Some of you may want to be completely different parents than your own because of negative feelings about your childhood. Others of you may feel like there’s no way you’ll live up to create the childhood and home environment your parents established for you. You may at times feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a parent, and with a feeling of being tied down “forever”.
Anxiety about parenthood and feelings of detachment can be managed by breaking them down into their component elements and addressing each one. If you fear not being an adequate parent, what are the specifics of that fear? Write down the details that come to mind then address each one individually. Write down your solutions or avenues to improvement. You may be able to do this with your spouse; you may not, depending on your relationship.
Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep deprivation and exhaustion can exaggerate any negative emotions you experience and decrease your coping skills. Strategies to minimize fatigue include sleeping when the baby sleeps; taking “shifts” for feedings and diaper changings, and taking regularly scheduled “breaks” from the baby. If you’re lucky enough to have a trusted relative live close enough to watch the baby so you both can go out together. If not, you can spell one another from time to time. Check in with yourself and with your spouse on a regular basis.
Get more tips for managing baby blues and post-partum depression, as well as a host of great pregnancy information with DIY Baby.