Creating the miracle that is life is an extraordinary process that comes in three stages, each taking a large toll on the body, mind, and spirit of an expectant mother. From the start of the pregnancy journey, hormone levels rise rapidly and double every two days for the first couple of months. By the end of the pregnancy term (the third trimester), most varieties of hormones have multiplied their normal levels immensely.
It would be nice to believe that immediately after birth, these over-grown hormones simply vanish, and you could focus solely on your new bundle of joy. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. Postpartum, being the fourth trimester, is a further stage that can be just as (and at times, more) tense or stressful for a new mother’s body, mind, and spirit.
Think of the postpartum stage as a transition phase, where your entire being is now rapidly reversing the strong effects of growing life for almost an entire year, within weeks! Now consider what happens when you’re also unable to fully tend to yourself because you have new priorities that are beyond you; caring for a new life. This is typically the cause of postpartum depression (PPD).
Postpartum depression is a serious but treatable mood disorder. Women who develop PPD can experience intense emotions and stress following childbirth, leading to difficulty maintaining a healthy lifestyle. According to the American Psychology Association, PPD is extremely common, affecting about 1 out of 7 women due to a variety of changes and circumstances of motherhood.
Differentiating Between PPD and “Baby Blues”
Like most psychological state disorders, there is a spectrum to examine. When searching for signs of postpartum depression, it’s essential to consider the level of the symptoms experienced. Postpartum “baby blues” is a very common symptom many mothers feel after giving birth. Symptoms like restlessness, crying, and anxiety is generally to be expected after experiencing childbirth.
These symptoms typically occur for two weeks. If they last longer, worsen or intensify to the point of it affecting your quality of life, then you may be seeing signs of something more severe than the baby blues, approaching signs of postpartum depression. Making this distinction between the two will help you or your loved one to determine the next steps to take on the postpartum journey.
The Different Faces of Postpartum Depression
The different aspects of life being changed simultaneously create different faces for PPD to deal with, which is why it’s crucial to understand how each level of self may experience it. Recognizing signs of stress that lead to noticeable changes in personality is key.
Postpartum depression symptoms range from excessive mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and fear, to the inability to bond with their new baby. This disorder can arise in a new mother’s life immediately after childbirth, or it could sneak up on her a few months in and sometimes even before childbirth.
Life is intricate with its many facets, making motherhood just as complex. Not everything in life requires you to simultaneously tend to your body, mind, and spirit, but motherhood does. There are versions of a new mom that needs to adjust, awaken, or succumb, and it affects her entire world. Studies have shown a variety of symptoms and signs of PPD through each level of self; our emotional, mental, and physical selves.
Emotional Symptoms & Signs
Emotional wellness is essential for both baby and mother. Postpartum depression can severely interfere with maintaining healthy and balanced relationships, especially between herself and her baby. Here’s what to look out for:
• Having difficulty performing daily tasks due to intense anxiety, worry, and fear
• Frequent mood swings that go from calm to intensely irritable
• Expressing feelings of shame, guilt, hopelessness, extreme sadness, or despair
Mental Symptoms & Signs
Mental health encompasses psychological, social, and emotional well-being. It can be challenging for mothers with postpartum depression to cope or grasp control of their thoughts and behaviors. It can significantly affect her overall life and family as well. Here’s what to look out for:
• Seeming unable to focus or concentrate
• Forgetting things easily
• Being indecisive and/or confused about how to handle decision-making
Physical Symptoms & Signs
It’s well known that emotional and mental stress can lead to pains within the body. Additionally, the hormones associated with being in labor and giving birth rise by 500% during that delicate time. This causes the body to recover physically from a different state of mind during the postpartum phase, and it can be quite straining. Here’s what to look out for:
• Loss of energy
• Unable to sleep
• Muscle aches and pains
• Chronic fatigue
• Change in appetite, whether it’s eating too much or too little
Extreme Signs of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression also includes more severe types, which involve symptoms of extreme behaviors and emotions categorized as postpartum OCD, postpartum panic disorders, or postpartum PTSD. Here’s what to look out for:
• Experiencing intrusive thoughts of harming the baby and being horrified by these thoughts
• Obsessive and repetitive behaviors such as excessive washing of clothes and/or baby, or even wholly avoiding it and other necessary tasks
• Suffering from “panic attacks” with physical symptoms like racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, and tightening chest
Keep in mind that there isn’t any particular type of person who experiences this disorder. No one thing is responsible for the presence of PPD. Although the stresses of one’s environment, demands from work, and physical/emotional demands of childbearing are typically the trigger.
Treatment for Postpartum Depression
Understanding and becoming aware of your or your loved one’s mental health is the first grand step in getting the help needed, especially on the journey of parenthood. Becoming a new mother is no simple task, be sure to be sensitive towards yourself/loved one and talk as openly as possible about your next steps. Talk to your healthcare provider and family to determine what’s best for you, considering your accessibility, severity of PPD, and medical history.
Generally, PPD treatment involves working with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. A psychologist concentrates on human behaviors and will likely focus on talk therapy, allowing you to express yourself and reach a deeper level of your concerns and stresses. A psychiatrist is medically trained to concentrate on biological/neurological stresses and is likely to prescribe medications or antidepressants.
PPD typically lasts six months and is a journey within the journey of parenthood. Healthy lifestyle changes that allow you to tend to your well-being are your next steps into recovery. Find a window of time to treat yourself to a quick, calming, warm bath or shower. Reflect on your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Eat mindfully. This helps you address yourself positively in an attempt to become more present-minded.