As an obstetrician-gynecologist, I have seen many women who struggle with mood changes after having a baby. There is a common belief that childbirth is a magical time for all mothers and that as soon as the baby is born, maternal feelings and knowledge magically appear.
For many women, this may not be the case. Some women struggle with feeling anxious, sad, or like they are unable to care for their baby. They might even feel powerless to take care of themselves. Ella’s story is an example of the struggle some women experience.
Ella had her first baby when she was 32. She dealt with so much pain throughout her pregnancy that she had to take time off from work. She was looking forward to relief from her symptoms after giving birth, but her pain was replaced with something else.
After giving birth, Ella felt drained, but she planned to breastfeed and was eager to start. However, her baby had a hard time getting a good latch, despite the help she received from the nurses in the hospital. Every time she tried to breastfeed and couldn’t, Ella became more anxious. That made the next time she tried to breastfeed even harder, and her baby would cry because he was hungry.
As this pattern continued, Ella became increasingly overwhelmed, and she began to feel inadequate. The anxiety she felt around breastfeeding continued even after her baby learned to latch. When the baby cried, she worried he was hungry because her body wasn’t making enough milk. Taking care of the baby began to feel like too much, and taking care of herself felt just as difficult. It was harder and harder to bathe herself, change her clothes, or even eat. She was also experiencing crying spells.
When it was time to go back to work, Ella was ready for the change. However, her feelings of being inadequate followed her on the job. She lost the confident attitude she had prior to giving birth. She questioned every decision and struggled with tasks that had been easy for her before.
During Ella’s postpartum visit just after 6 weeks, she didn’t mention her struggle, even when asked how she was feeling. She felt embarrassed to share her feelings and felt like a bad mother because she found it so hard to take care of her baby. It was only after a long discussion about her breastfeeding experience that she opened up to me.
Does Ella’s story sound familiar? Many women experience symptoms like Ella’s and are not aware that these types of feelings are common. Often, they go away on their own after a few days. But if they last for more than two weeks and do not improve, it might be postpartum depression.
By the end of the postpartum visit, Ella did accept a referral for counseling and agreed to check in with me once a month. After several weeks of therapy, she told me that her mood improved and she could care for herself and her baby. She was also able to continue breastfeeding until her baby was 12 months old. Although it took several months, Ella was also able to feel confident at work again.
Postpartum depression: What you should know
Whether you or someone you love recently gave birth, here’s what you should know about postpartum depression.
You are not alone. One in 9 new mothers has postpartum depression. Symptoms include:
- Feeling empty, sad, or overwhelmed
- Feeling irritable or moody
- Crying for no apparent reason
- Having difficulty with memory and concentration
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Not enjoying activities you once enjoyed
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feeling like you are unable to care for your baby
You might be at higher risk of postpartum depression if you:
- Have a personal history of depression or bipolar disorder
- Have a family history of depression or bipolar disorder
- Do not have support from family and friends
- Were depressed during pregnancy
- Had problems with a previous pregnancy or birth
- Have relationship or money problems
- Are younger than 20
- Have alcoholism, use illegal drugs, or have some other problem with drugs
- Have a baby with special needs
- Have difficulty breastfeeding
- Had an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
Postpartum depression is treatable. Counseling and medication are effective at treating mood disorders, including postpartum depression. Treatment can improve your symptoms or make them go away entirely.
Your doctor can help. Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling, because your treatment can begin only when your depression is identified. When asked how you are doing during visits with your doctor or your baby’s doctor, be honest. There is no reason to feel embarrassed about your feelings. Mood disorders like depression and anxiety are medical conditions that require treatment. Follow up on any treatment or referral your doctor gives you.