"I have a new baby. Why do I feel so depressed?" A Look at Postpartum Depression

Merely Me Health Guide
  • It is one of those times in a woman's life which holds high emotional expectations.  You are given your "bundle of joy" and then you are sent home to relish your life as a new mother.  But what if you aren't experiencing that joy everyone told you that you would feel.  What if, instead, you find yourself more tearful than your baby?  What if you can't quite shake the feeling of intense sadness and even despair? The world expects you to be glowing and happy but you are not.  So you find yourself withdrawing more and more from people, afraid to talk about how you really feel. 


    This is not an uncommon scenario for a lot of women who are experiencing what is known as postpartum depression.  The UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders  and contributor for Health Central's My Depression Connection, tell us that the first three months after having a baby is the most prevalent time for symptoms of postpartum depression to appear. And add to this, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that one in ten new mothers will experience this type of depression. 

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    Whenever I think about postpartum depression, I tend to think of the verbal battle between actress and former model, Brooke Shields and actor and couch jumper, Tom Cruise.  I am sure many of you remember how Mr. Cruise expressed his disappointment that Brooke Shields had used Paxil to help her through her postpartum depression and then told Matt Lauer of the Today show that he didn't understand the history of psychiatry.  In a 2005 New York Times editorial entitled, "War of Words"  Brooke Shields said what many mothers wanted to say and that is:  "While Mr. Cruise says that Mr. Lauer and I do not "understand the history of psychiatry," I'm going to take a wild guess and say that Mr. Cruise has never suffered from postpartum depression."  I am sure many women applauded with a "Right on sister!"


    There is a definite biological component to postpartum depression which cannot be ignored. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services tells us that the hormones estrogen and progesterone increase greatly during pregnancy.  But after childbirth these hormonal levels plummet and this change can cause depression.  In addition thyroid hormones may also decrease dramatically after childbirth and this too can lead to fatigue, mood swings, and depression.


    There are also psychological risk factors to developing postpartum depression including a history of depression, marital or relationship problems, financial difficulties, and self esteem issues of worrying about whether you will be a good mother.


    What are the signs of postpartum depression?  And how does one know if they have what many call "The Baby Blues" as opposed to a more serious postpartum depression?


    The literature seems to indicate that the baby blues and postpartum depression differ in intensity of symptoms and duration.  The baby blues generally lasts less than two weeks.


     Baby Blues Symptoms:

    • You might feel anxious, tearful or overwhelmed.
    • You have mood swings
    • You feel irritable and tired
    • You experience changes in your appetite

    The symptoms of postpartum depression may begin with the baby blues but increase in severity and how long they last.  Health Central provides the following list of postpartum depression symptoms from the UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders: 

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    Symptoms of Postpartum Depression:

    • Feeling sad, depressed, and/or crying a lot
    • Intense anxiety, rumination, obsessions
    • Loss of interest in usual activities
    • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
    • Feeling incompetent or inadequate to cope with the new infant
    • Fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbance
    • Change in appetite
    • Poor concentration
    • Sleep problems (not being able to sleep even when the patient is sleeping, or wanting to sleep all the time).
    • Excessive worry about the baby's health
    • Suicidal thoughts
    • Thoughts of wanting to hurt the baby.

    When should you reach out for help?


    First of all know that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms that you are not alone and that there is hope to feel better.  The Mayo Clinic recommends that if your symptoms last longer than two weeks, it is a struggle for you to perform daily tasks, if you are unable to care for yourself and/or your baby, if you feel like hurting yourself or your baby you should seek help from a medical professional.


    Where can you go for help? 

    You can always start by telling your medical doctor or a mental health therapist.  You don't need to suffer alone.  There is hope and there is help.  Here are some other resources for you to contact if you feel you are having postpartum depression symptoms.

    We would like to hear from our readers as to whether or not you or your partner have ever experienced postpartum depression.  Sharing your story here may help others who are trying to cope with this type of depression to feel that they are all alone. We welcome your insights, stories, and opinions.

Published On: August 17, 2009