I work with many clients who are excited about starting the next phase of their life by having children and becoming new parents. Many come to me both excited and nervous about what that could look like. Many clients who already have anxiety and/or depression voice to me that they are anxious about having postpartum depression due to suffering from depression in the past. As their clinical therapist, my job is not only to validate their concerns, but also to provide coping mechanisms and helpful information about their concerns.
Given that the month of May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, I felt like it would be good timing to read the article from The New York Times that touched on this very topic: “Postpartum depression can be dangerous. Here’s how to recognize it and seek treatment,” by author Tara Haelle.
Below, I discuss Haelle’s key points from her article.
- So, what exactly is postpartum depression? Many can confuse “baby blues” with postpartum depression, but they are completely different. In fact, 80% of women will experience “baby blues,” which can look like worry, unhappiness, and fatigue for new mothers. It typically goes away after about 5-7 days and also typically resolves on its own. Postpartum depression is much different and much more intense; it is a serious mental health issue that affects 10-20% of new moms. It looks quite different than the “baby blues” as instead of a week, it can last anywhere from a year to several years. The symptoms can look like feeling disconnected from others (your baby included), anger, guilt, frequent crying, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty sleeping, sadness, and hopelessness. Recognizing the signs earlier as opposed to later is the first key component in starting treatment for postpartum depression.
- “Baby blues” Vs. Postpartum depression. Haelle spoke with Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who better explains what the “baby blues” are. Dr. Trachtenberg states “baby blues” is a very normal occurrence for new mothers as you likely will feel overwhelmed after just giving birth, but you still want to bond with your baby and feel connected to others. You also will likely be tired and won’t think clearly, but you still want to do things you enjoy. Dr. Carly Snyder, a reproductive psychiatrist from New York City explains that postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety looks like crying on a daily basis, active isolation from your baby and from family/friends, inability to sleep due to intrusive anxious thoughts, and/or thoughts of suicide.
- Additional mental health conditions and postpartum. Dr. Trachtenberg describes if giving birth was traumatic, then other mental health conditions can develop postpartum such as post-traumatic stress syndrome; also, obsessive compulsive disorder syndrome can also occur postpartum. One can also have postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression at the same time. Postpartum anxiety can look like physical pain/discomfort like stomach aches and headaches; postpartum anxiety can also look like excessive fear about your baby’s health and safety, insomnia and panic attacks, and inability to be able to sit still.
- What two questions do doctors typically ask patients who might have postpartum depression? Dr. Alison Stuebe, an associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill asks two very specific questions to her patients if she suspects them to be experiencing postpartum depression: Are you having scary thoughts and are you able to sleep when the baby is sleeping?
Part 2 of this blog post will further discuss additional symptoms of postpartum depression, such as things that increase risks of postpartum depression, the necessity of social support, how to appropriately seek appropriate treatment, and lastly, affective coping skills if you have postpartum depression.