If one word could describe pregnancy and new motherhood, it would likely be joy. For some women, sadness and anxiety are the words that best describe their feelings. “These feelings are felt by a lot of new mothers,” says obstetrician/gynecologist Elizabeth Flodin, DO, with LVPG Obstetrics and Gynecology–Valley Center Parkway and co-author of a paper about postpartum depression screening. “For many women, those feelings will go away on their own, but in some cases moms need additional care to manage anxiety or deep-rooted sadness.”
Baby blues or postpartum depression?
Two terms associated with pregnancy and feelings of sadness are the“baby blues” and postpartum depression (PPD).
The baby blues refer to emotions moms may feel in the period right after delivering their baby – and they are real. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, baby blues affect up to 80 percent of all women who deliver. “These feelings develop the first few days after delivery and are usually are gone by two weeks,” Flodin says.
Signs of the baby blues include:
- Mild depression
- Decreased concentration
PPD is sometimes harder for patients and family members to recognize because its symptoms are very similar to those of the baby blues. However, unlike the baby blues, which go away in about two weeks, PPD symptoms continue and are more severe.
Signs of PPD include:
- Panic attacks
- Feeling inadequate, overwhelmed or unable to care for the baby
- Feelings of shame, guilt or having failed as a mother
PPD occurs in 8 to 15 percent of women, yet its impact isn’t limited to the time period after delivering a baby. “27 percent of women with PPD develop it prior to pregnancy, 33 percent develop it during pregnancy and 40 percent develop it postpartum,” Flodin says.
PPD may be caused by a number of factors, including a sudden drop in hormones following the delivery of a baby, coupled with sleep deprivation and potentially involving one or more risk factors. PPD risk factors include:
- History of depression and/or other mental illnesses
- Young age
- Stressful life events during the 12 months prior to delivery
- Lack of social and financial support
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Diabetes mellitus or gestational diabetes
- Not breastfeeding
- Bad outcomes with baby (stillbirth or neonatal death)
- Unplanned pregnancy.
Diagnosing Baby Blues or PPD
The keys to diagnosis are awareness and communicating your feelings with your health care provider and family members. One way Flodin and her colleagues start that discussion is with the use of a quick survey. “Our patients take the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale on a few different occasions postpartum,” she says. “This asks 10 questions about how they have been feeling over the past week.” It is given after delivery before a patient is discharged home, as well as at their postpartum visit and sometimes in pediatric offices.
If a patient has a known mental health disorder or history with a mental health disorder, caregivers will ask how she is doing emotionally while at prenatal visits.
There are things a partner, family members or friends can do to help a woman who is feeling overwhelmed by new motherhood. “Family can be helpful by being understanding and helping with the baby without being overbearing,” Flodin says. Ideas include:
- Watch the baby while mom catches up on her sleep.
- Prepare or drop off meals.
- Watch siblings of the new baby.
- Help with laundry or housecleaning.
If sadness and anxiety extend into three weeks post-delivery, family should encourage the new mother to seek help from her health care provider. “While the baby blues will get easier, diagnosing and treating postpartum depression requires professional help. For women with PPD, we discuss all options, including talk therapy, antidepressant medication or a combination approach,” she says.
At LVHN, a support group called Thursday Evening Moms is available for women who may be experiencing difficulty with managing feelings and emotions after delivery. (Babies are welcome, too.) During the group sessions, moms are led in discussions by an experienced lactation counselor, to share stories and experiences which may help them navigate this time. The main message for women who attend the meetings: “You are not alone and you may feel better with support.” Meetings are held twice monthly at 1243 S. Cedar Crest Blvd., Allentown. For information or registration, call 888-402-LVHN.
PPD is treatable, and it’s not a sign of not loving your child. “Seeking help is a powerful step,” Flodin says. “With treatment, PPD will be calmed and then you will be able to experience the joy your newborn brings to your life.”