How To Cope With Postpartum Depression

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Woman with distressed expression holding a baby

You’ve just given birth to a wonderful, healthy baby and everyone’s ecstatic. Everyone, that is, except you. Are you having mood swings and bouts of unexplainable crying? Are you anxious, sad, irritable or unable to sleep? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these, you may be experiencing the “baby blues,” also known as postpartum depression (PPD).

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we see the baby blues quite often, especially in new moms. In fact, up to 80 percent of new mothers experience the blues, a type of mild depression that begins a few days to a week after delivery and generally lasts about two weeks. Typically, moms feel better after getting some rest and a helping hand with the baby. But if your blues have lasted more than two weeks, or seem to be getting worse as time goes on, you may need to seek further help.

Experts don’t know exactly what causes postpartum depression but here are some theories

There is not one definitive cause of postpartum depression but the majority of experts believe it could be caused by hormones in a woman’s body that change during pregnancy and affect the brain’s chemistry. After she gives birth, the amount of estrogen and progesterone in her body is dramatically reduced, which may cause some women to develop PPD.

Another possibility is that women with postpartum depression may have an underactive thyroid gland after delivery. If properly detected and diagnosed, this issue is easy to treat.

And yet another hypothesis is that this type of depression is linked to other forms of depression, since women who have previously had depression are more likely to develop depression after giving birth. Women with relatives who have had depression also have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

How to know if you have postpartum depression

When they bring their newborn to us for a well-baby check, some new moms have told us that they feel they can’t adequately care for their baby or may harm their baby. When we hear this, we immediately suspect PPD. Our next step is to talk everything out with her (and her partner if possible) and make sure she knows that we’re here for her and her baby, every step of the way, with advice, guidance and support.

Postpartum depression can begin any time during the first two months after giving birth. If you have three or more of these symptoms, you may have PPD:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping (especially returning to sleep)
  • Loss of weight and/or appetite, or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain
  • Anxiety, worry, anger
  • Crying easily
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Changes in appetite or eating habits

Tips on how to manage PPD

  • Let your family and friends help you with your new baby
  • Confide in someone, don’t get through this alone
  • Participate in activities that may make you feel better (new baby music class, yoga, swimming, etc.)
  • Exercise regularly, even if it’s just going for a walk. Studies have shown that mild, regular exercise can regulate mood.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. People rarely “snap out” of a depression. Feeling better takes time.
  • See your doctor. Some cases of PPD are severe enough to warrant treatment by a doctor.

Dads can get the baby blues too

Although postpartum depression in new moms is well known, it’s much less acknowledged that fathers can also become depressed after their baby’s birth. Studies show that depression among dads seems to peak 3-6 months after birth, a crucial time when they should be bonding with their baby. Exactly why dads become depressed is not fully understood but hormonal changes due to sleep loss could be a factor, along with stress, financial worries, a rocky relationship with the partner, anxiety over being a new parent and a colicky, constantly-crying newborn. If you or anyone you know is experiencing these feelings, please seek professional help.

If you think you may have postpartum depression, we’re here to help, and listen. Please come see us.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’re here to support the health your child and you. If you think you have PPD, please come in and meet with us. We’ll talk about ways to cope with the demands of a new baby, and if need be, refer you to a professional who can offer further help and counseling. Our goal is for you and your baby to be happy and healthy and to enjoy this precious time together.

Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball