A Darker Shade of Blue
Images of new mothers are often joyful, suggesting that having a baby is a blissful experience that is bound to leave you glowing. Contrary to these popular images, most women experience a range of emotions following the birth of their babies. Adjusting to the newness of motherhood brings up myriad new thoughts and feelings, and shortly after your baby’s arrival, it’s normal to feel a little “blue.”
As many as 60 to 80 percent of mothers experience the baby blues. Symptoms include feelings of sadness, overwhelm and worry. These symptoms are generally mild. While uncomfortable and sometimes scary, the baby blues do not heavily impact a new mother’s ability to care for and attach to her baby. They are a normal response to the hormonal fluctuations that begin immediately following childbirth, as well as the social and emotional changes that ensue during the postpartum period.
If the “blues” last for more than seven to ten days, it’s a good idea to reach out to your obstetrician for a postpartum mood screening. Postpartum mood concerns, both depression and anxiety, are more extreme forms of the baby blues. Surprisingly, they are the number one complication of childbirth and are experienced by 15 to 20 percent of mothers.
Symptoms of postpartum mood concerns include:
- Feelings of sadness and crying
- Anxiety and irritability
- Sleeping challenges
- Little interest in the baby
- Lack of interest in social and daily activities
- Feelings of guilt, shame, worry and overwhelm
- In more severe cases, thoughts of hurting oneself or the baby
Several variables increase a woman’s likelihood of developing a postpartum mood concern. These include: lack of social support, financial stress, pregnancy or post-birth complications, breastfeeding challenges, personal or family history with depression or anxiety, and having multiples.
Remember that having a baby and becoming a mother, while a seemingly happy event, is also stressful. Immersed in the new waters of motherhood, many women may not recognize their symptoms of anxiety or depression because they are tired and overwhelmed. It’s important to know that postpartum mood concerns can arise any time during the first year following childbirth. Wendy Davis, director of Postpartum Support International, says, “Postpartum mood concerns are temporary and treatable. New mothers are not alone and not to blame. Early screening is an important step in facilitating recovery.”
Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net
2020 MOM Project: 2020momproject.com
Five Ways Dads Can Help Too
Postpartum mood concerns affect the entire family. Dads are often confused, and at a loss about ways they can help during this vulnerable time. Below, Dr. Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist specializing in helping men and fathers shares six ways dads can support their partners during the postpartum period.
Know the symptoms. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of postpartum depression. If her symptoms last for more than two weeks, she could be depressed.
Talk to her about it. Let her know that you’re concerned about her, and think she could be experiencing depression. But be gentle. Moms with postpartum depression often feel ashamed. So, say to her, ”You’re not alone. One out of 5 moms becomes depressed after she gives birth.” And if she’s feeling bad, you can add, ”And there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not your fault.”
Be patient and reassure her that she’ll get better. Let her know that, although she may feel terrible and even hopeless, postpartum depression is very treatable and she doesn’t need to continue to suffer.
Help her to get the help she needs. And the sooner, the better — meaning early treatment will minimize the impact on her and your family. Treatment can come in many forms. The important thing is that she receives help.
Pitch in at home. Whether it’s a diaper change, a baby’s feeding or doing a load of laundry, anything you can do to relieve mom of some household responsibilities will help to reduce the demands and stress that she’s feeling.
Make sure she gets plenty of sleep. A lack of sleep can be one of the causes of postpartum depression. So, do everything you can to help her get the sleep she needs. That might mean you being up with the baby at night, or during the day on the weekend so she can take a nap.
Dr. Juli Fraga is a psychologist specializing in women’s health and wellness with a special focus on maternal mental health. She writes for the Conversation, PsychCentral and the Honest Company. Dr. Fraga is on the board of Postpartum Support International.
Dr. Will Courtenay is a psychotherapist and internationally recognized expert in men’s health concerns. He specializes in helping new dads navigate the continuum of fatherhood. He has been quoted in the Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. www.mensdoc.com