Most of us think we know about postpartum depression. We’ve seen the tragic news stories about mothers who take the lives of their own children. We’ve heard that women who suffer from it don’t feel love for or connection to their babies. And we equate depression with sadness, so therefore women afflicted by PPD are probably sad all the time, too.
While there are women who certainly experience those extreme symptoms, not all women who suffer from postpartum depression do. Many of the symptoms are much less severe and much more nuanced. And that’s why thousands of women who are slogging through the mire of their baby’s first year with a general sense of dis-ease never seek treatment for postpartum depression.
Because they don’t even realize they have it.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is one type of affliction in a family of postpartum mood disorders alongside the lesser-known postpartum anxiety and postpartum psychosis. As is the case with most mental health disorders, there is a continuum of symptoms ranging in severity from mild to severe.
Postpartum depression can come on unexpectedly at any time during a baby’s first year (not just in the early weeks), and the most frequent onset is around 5 months postpartum. Symptoms include:
- Anger/irritability/intense rage
- Inability to concentrate
- Difficulty making decisions
- Changes in eating patterns
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Frequent, unexplained crying
- Exhaustion (bone-weary emotional exhaustion, not just from the lack of sleep due to caring for a newborn)
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feelings of failure
- Feeling like you’re walking in a fog
- Feeling disconnected from your baby, partner, or other important people in your life
- Having a general feeling of “this is not what I expected” that you cannot shake
Many of the most tragic stories you hear about in the media are due to postpartum psychosis, which is the most severe of the postpartum mood disorders.
How Do I Know if I Have Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression and other mood disorders can be diagnosed by a doctor or mental health professional.
While we’ve listed the symptoms above to give you an idea of the signs of postpartum depression, the reality is that it’s hard to self-diagnose. Between hormonal fluctuations, the shame associated with perceived parenting failures, and some of the nuances in the symptoms, it can be hard to identify clearly whether you need professional help or not.
Plus, the symptoms look different for everyone and many women don’t have the “classic” signs. Many women with PPD feel intense feelings of love and bonding toward their child, yet wrestle with other symptoms. Some appear to have it all together on the outside while struggling with feelings of rage toward their other children or husband. Others are running themselves ragged to be the best mother they can, but find themselves unable to fall asleep once their head hits the pillow, despite their exhaustion. Still others think they’re just experiencing the common challenges of living with a newborn, while the subtle effects of their undiagnosed PPD start causing their marriage to fall apart.
The bottom line is that if you have any sense at all that things aren’t quite right, contact your primary care provider, OB/GYN, or mental health provider and get screened.
How to Heal from Postpartum Depression
Let’s be real – nobody wants to have postpartum depression. With all the misinformation about the disorder, the stigma attached, and the unrelenting pressure on moms for perfection, the idea of a diagnosis can be incredibly disappointing – and even scary.
But if you’re facing postpartum depression, remember these three things:
- It’s not your fault.
- It is treatable.
- There is hope.
There are multiple ways to treat postpartum depression, but talk therapy has been proven to be one of the most effective. While it may seem overwhelming to put one more thing on your plate, pursuing healing will be worth it and can have a tremendously positive impact on your life, your parenting, and your relationships.
You deserve to enjoy this time, even though today it may seem impossible.
Trust us, it’s possible. We can help you feel like yourself again.
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