image by Leonardo Boiko (lic)The weeks and months that follow after the initial excitement of the new baby's birth can be an emotion roller coaster for new mothers. Many women experience the "baby blues", a mild form of depression that lasts one week to ten days after the baby is born, and fully 10% of new mothers report feeling at least some depression during the post-partum period. There are a number of causes for these post-birth blues. The high levels of hormones that were characteristic of pregnancy are now crashing back to normal levels, dragging your emotions around with them. Further, the reality of having to be completely responsible for your new baby's every need is a massive restriction of the relative freedom you may have enjoyed before your baby was born.
Most of the time, the "baby blues" go away on their own in short order. However, for some women (especially young moms) these blues can become more severe and long-term. Postpartum depression can occur anytime within six months of giving birth, and if left untreated, can last longer than one year. The symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Feeling irritable, sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
- Feeling unwilling or unable to care for the new baby
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Crying often
- Low sexual desire
- Low energy levels
- Too much or too little sleeping or eating
- Difficulty concentrating
- Desire to hurt oneself or the baby
Women with a history of depression or mood disorder, or who have family members who have experienced depression are at an increased risk for developing postpartum depression, as are women taxed by a stressful home environment or relationship, women who have a baby with a health problems or who is fussy, women experiencing a late-term miscarriage or stillbirth (and thus not bringing home a baby), and women whose pregnancy was unplanned.
Postpartum depression usually resolves within 9 months following the birth of a baby. However, the feelings associated with postpartum depression can be so severe as to interfere with your daily routines and make it difficult for you to care for yourself and your baby. Luckily, psychotherapy (counseling), support groups, and antidepressant medications can be used to treat postpartum depression. Speak to your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of postpartum depression for more than two weeks in a row. He or she can work with you to find a combination of treatments that will best help you recover your balance. Remember: experiencing depression after giving birth is completely normal. There is no shame in asking for help.