Today, even though we’ve made much progress, postpartum depression (PPD) still gets confused with baby blues. It still gets minimized and dismissed.
Oh, don’t worry. Being sad and sobbing are totally normal. So is feeling frustrated. You just gave birth, after all. You just need some sleep. A day off. A change in attitude. Maybe you should stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Maybe you’re not used to being home so much. You need time to adjust. You need to get used to your new normal. That’s all.
Maybe someone told you these words — with kind and good intentions. Or maybe you’ve said these words to yourself. Either way, there’s a lot of misinformation about PPD and how it manifests. For starters, PPD is different from baby blues.
About 85 percent of new moms experience baby blues, said Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in postpartum depression. Baby blues typically appear three to five days after a woman gives birth, and she feels better about two to three weeks later.
PPD, however, appears four weeks or months after delivery. While baby blues go away on their own, PPD worsens without treatment, Kogan said. Women may feel hopeless, lose motivation and have suicidal thoughts, said Jessica Fowler, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. PPD affects about 10 to 20 percent of new moms, she said.
Carrie Klassen isn’t sure when her postpartum depression began. “[W]hen I was sick, I didn’t know I was sick. That’s the cruelest part of PPD—it makes you think the thoughts you have are your own and that they are true.”
PPD also makes it harder to care for yourself and your child, Fowler said. It affects every woman differently. Some women are unable to get out of bed. Others may look OK—even great—while they’re really in agony. Fowler noted that PPD symptoms include:
- excessive worry
- problems sleeping
- weight loss or gain
- distorted negative thinking, intrusive thoughts or “scary thoughts”
- difficulty concentrating
- physical symptoms, such as back aches or headaches
“For me, postpartum depression felt like all-encompassing despair and hopelessness and grief,” Klassen said. “I was certain that our daughter hated me and wished she’d been delivered to a different mother. I was certain that my own mother and husband both wished I were gone because I was a burden and because they would be much better for our daughter.”
While Klassen didn’t think about ending her life, she prayed that a disease would, to spare her daughter any shame.
Klassen’s family didn’t know she was struggling. Because she felt ashamed about not being blissed-out on motherhood, Klassen kept her feelings a secret. “So much of postpartum depression is internal and private,” she said.
(It’s common for women with PPD to assume there’s something wrong with them because they’re not 100 percent happy and to keep pushing through, Kogan said. Which makes it tougher to spot the illness.)
A nurse at a breastfeeding clinic recognized that Klassen was not well. She gave her husband brochures about a program for PPD and urged him to take Klassen to her doctor. Thankfully, Klassen’s doctor specialized in PPD. “[S]he helped me to understand that I wasn’t a bad mother; I was sick.”
As part of her treatment, Klassen attended weekly therapy sessions and ate plenty of protein and healthy fats to feed her severely depleted body. She also found support in a fellow mom who was loving and non-judgmental.
Aside from depression, new moms can struggle with other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum psychosis, Fowler said.
Treatment is vital, and usually includes a combination of medication and supportive therapy with a clinician who specializes in perinatal disorders, Kogan said. Postpartum psychosis affects a small percentage of new moms. But it requires immediate intervention—typically hospitalization, she said.
Fowler wants women to remember that you know yourself best. If you’re not feeling like yourself, reach out. “If you tell someone and they tell you to just sleep, give it time or completely dismiss your feelings, then tell someone else. Keep reaching out.”
You might be ashamed of how you’re feeling. You might think this is all your fault. You might feel terrible about your dark, raging thoughts. All of this is part of the illness—and seeking help is the best thing you can do. Be honest with others, and find reputable professional help. (And if you know a mom who’s struggling, please help her find professional support.) Fowler suggested visiting Postpartum Support International, the Postpartum Stress Center and Postpartum Progress to find resources and local support.
Klassen wants women to know that you’re not alone, and PPD isn’t permanent. “You will bond with your baby. You will feel your baby’s love. You will love your baby. It will be OK—and it’s OK if you don’t believe that just now.”
When she was struggling with PPD, Klassen’s biggest fear was that she’d already failed as a mother. “I worried I’d damaged our daughter with my illness and disconnection. I imagined her weeping to a therapist one day that she never felt wanted.” Such anxiety is natural, and part of the illness—but it’s unfounded.
Today, Klassen’s daughter is three years old. “[S]he runs to me after preschool and brushes my hair and squeezes my hand so sweetly that I get tears in my eyes for the fullness of my heart.”
Sad woman photo available from Shutterstock