Women’s bodies change considerably during pregnancy and childbirth. Along with physical changes, there’s the hormonal roller coaster that can affect a multitude of things. Changes to a mom’s mental wellbeing are not often talked about at prenatal classes. With mood swings affecting between 50% and 75% of new moms, feelings of sadness and anxiety are more common than you think. Perhaps it is a subject that needs more open discussion so moms don’t feel they have failed if they suffer.
When feelings of sadness and worry become severe, it could be a sign of postpartum depression and anxiety. This temporary condition can make the first weeks of parenthood very difficult. Support and understanding is required to get through this time.
What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a feeling of almost unbearable sadness. It usually starts just a few days after giving birth and can go on for weeks and even months. Moms are often tearful for no reason and many become withdrawn and sleep more than usual. New moms can also have trouble bonding with the new baby and in the worst cases and not be able to care for them independently. Other unusual mood swings can occur, some moms become unpredictably angry and others lose their appetites. Their actions are often intense and troubling.
What is postpartum anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety shares some symptoms with postpartum depression, but sufferers feel highly anxious rather than sad. It can start towards the end of the pregnancy, or in the first few days after birth. With postpartum anxiety, mom has a persistent feeling of danger or is constantly on edge. She might be compelled to keep checking on the baby or calling a doctor about things the baby is doing. She may be unable to function properly because of her worries. There could also be OCD behavior such as constant cleaning to keep germs. Signs such as feeling inadequate may also be evident. Some people even develop the shakes. These are signs that are not easily missed if you know the person well.
What to look out for with postpartum depression and anxiety
It’s natural for a new mom to be nervous when she first starts to look after her baby. Asking a lot of questions doesn’t mean there is anything wrong. She could just need some reassurance that she’s doing a great job. Anxiety, however, is a concern if it stops someone from looking after their baby in a healthy way. Depression that is deep and prolonged should be monitored and help sought. The signs to look out for include:
- Withdrawal from the outside world
- Obsessions that are new
- Preventing visits from friends
- Not caring for themselves
- Trouble sleeping when tired
- Irrational concerns
- Frequent doctor visits for baby
- Excessive sleeping
- Putting on or losing weight quickly
- Leaving baby unattended
- Excessive crying
If any of these signs start off mild but gain momentum, then it should be an urgent concern. Of course, any suicidal or self-harming thoughts require immediate help, this should not be brushed to one side. Depression or anxiety can be a short-term, minor condition that goes by itself as the hormones settle after birth, but if it goes on for several weeks and gets worse, seek medical guidance.
Who suffers from this?
It’s not easy to say who will be affected by postpartum depression and anxiety before it happens. If there is some family history, then it is more likely to happen, but it’s not pre-determined. So a mom who suffered from these conditions on prior pregnancies could find it returns again, but it might not reoccur at all. For sufferers of depression pre-pregnancy, it is more possible that postpartum symptoms will begin. Moms without a supportive network are more likely to suffer, as are moms with additional stresses. If you find yourself in these situations, be aware that you are more vulnerable and reach out where you can.
Why does it happen?
As the hormones swing around during and after childbirth, one complication can be depression or anxiety. Often there is a lot of social pressure to be the perfect mom, and this doesn’t help. Anyone who is struggling can find it all overwhelming and find that their behavior and confidence is affected. Another reason for postpartum depression or anxiety is the experiences of previous pregnancies or births. Difficulties or tragedies suffered during past events can severely affect the mental wellbeing of a mom this time too.
What to do about postpartum depression and anxiety?
If you know that you are not functioning naturally, or you can see someone close to you being affected, there is help. Seeking the advice of a doctor is advisable, they will be able to refer you to people who can guide you through it. For non-medical ways to help these conditions, there are a few things that can alleviate things.
- First of all, simply speaking openly about your thoughts and feelings can be hugely beneficial. Knowing that you are not alone with your worries is helpful and realizing your insecurities are the same as other people’s is reassuring. Friends, family and other moms can be hugely helpful with this. Parenting support groups in the local area or online will also put your mind at rest.
- Never underestimate the power of exercise, you don’t have to start something too exhausting, just a gentle walk, a dance around the living room or a cycle ride is all it takes. Twenty minutes with baby in tow if you need to will do wonders for you. A walk in nature has healing powers, maybe by water or in the trees. The benefits of this are well documented – nature quickly lifts your spirit and put things into perspective.
- Meditation and yoga in a local class or at home using online programs can alleviate symptoms. Millions of people find quiet practice like this helps with all kinds of mental and physical problems so give it a try.
- Eat healthily and regularly. A nurtured body can soothe the mind and also ensure you are fit enough to look after your baby well. Junk food and additives are the easy fix, but our body doesn’t really need this kind of food and it can make you feel sluggish and low. Stock up with nuts, veg and fruit instead of potato chips and eat your way to feeling a little better.
Living with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
Often glibly referred to as ‘baby blues’, a mom’s struggle with changing emotions is a complication of childbirth. The conditions were not officially recognized until the 1970s , but now it is understood to be a condition that is real and should be monitored. The more serious conditions of postpartum anxiety or depression can last up to 12 months but most moms will recover after around 3 months. Being aware of the symptoms help identify when help is needed.
If you exhaust the non-medical methods and the symptoms do not improve, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication might be required temporarily. Talk with your doctor for the best solution but do not struggle alone.