The Many Faces Of Postpartum Depression: Knowing The Signs And How To Care For Yourself

Postpartum depression is more common than you think, yet few people know how to identify it—or how to seek help. Here’s what you need to know about postpartum depression and meaningful treatment options.

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When you’re the parent of a newborn, it’s normal to struggle with the demands of caring for a new, tiny human. But many people face something that goes far beyond a struggle: They experience postpartum depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in nine women experience postpartum depressive symptoms, which may show up a few days or even a few weeks after birth. And while it’s most common in mothers, fathers can also experience postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression isn’t the only postpartum mood disorder that exists. Other conditions include postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, and postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder.

Postpartum depression is exhausting—and the stigma around it makes it even tougher to deal with. Sadly, a lot of people feel guilty about having postpartum depression. That guilt, coupled with multiple other personal and healthcare factors, makes it difficult for some people to seek help for postpartum depression.

Fortunately, more people are speaking out about postpartum depression nowadays. This is in part because of growing mental health awareness. More people are educating themselves about mental illnesses and stigma. Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Adele are also using their platforms to talk about their own experiences with postpartum depression.

While dealing with postpartum depression can be tough, many treatment options are available. If you’re concerned that you or a loved one has postpartum depression, read on.

Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Many people confuse the “baby blues” with postpartum depression. The baby blues are feelings of anxiety and sadness that mothers frequently experience after giving birth. According to the CDC, the baby blues disappear on their own within a few days.

Postpartum depression, on the other hand, will stick around longer. Often, the symptoms are more intense.

According to medical research from the Mayo Clinic and Postpartum Support Internationalthe following symptoms are signs of postpartum depression:

  • You feel incredibly overwhelmed. You don’t simply feel like it’s hard; you feel you can’t handle it.
  • You’re overly anxious about anything that may hurt your child, yourself, or your family.
  • You feel numb. You aren’t interested in the things that usually bring you joy.
  • You don’t feel bonded to your baby.
  • You’re struggling to function in your daily life—you have no appetite, sleep too much, or can’t sleep at all.
  • You’re fatigued.
  • You find yourself withdrawn and have lost interest in socializing.
  • You’re very angry or irritable, or you have notable mood swings.
  • You have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby.

You might find yourself thinking that a few of these symptoms are relatively normal for someone who’s just had a new baby. After all, parents of babies often feel tired or anxious.

The symptoms of postpartum depression can seem normal, which partially accounts for people’s struggle to identify the condition in themselves or their loved ones. You should be concerned, though, if those negative feelings are overwhelming or make it hard for you to function.

If you’re unsure about the severity of your experience, your best bet is to visit a medical professional. They can diagnose you and help you work through the difficulties you’re facing.

Experiencing the symptoms of postpartum depression doesn’t make you a bad parent—in fact, postpartum depression is common experience. While it’s hard, it’s temporary and treatable. To improve your mood and to help yourself enjoy your precious time with your new baby, a therapist can help.

Healthy Ways of Coping with Postpartum Depression

The bad news? Postpartum depression, if left untreated, might have an adverse affect on your baby and your relationship with your child, particularly if you come from a disadvantaged background or don’t have a strong support network postpartum.

The good news is that postpartum depression is treatable. Treatment could include talk therapy or counseling, relying on support networks, and taking time for self-care as a new parent.  

Seeing a therapist is a good way to address postpartum depression. Your doctor might be able to give you a referral. As a professional, a therapist can help you work through your feelings and suggest practical techniques for when you’re struggling. A medical professional might also prescribe medication indicated for whatever type of depression or anxiety you’re facing.

You might also want to reach out to support groups where you can connect with other parents navigating postpartum depression. If there isn’t a group that meets near you, check out online forums like the online PPMD Support Group and Baby Blues Connection.

Trying relaxation techniques like deep breathing has been shown to help people with postpartum depression, as has massage therapy, meditation, and yoga.

There are a number of other things you can do to lift your mood and bring you joy. To reduce your feelings of overwhelm, ask your partner or a loved one to take care of your child for a little while. Take this time to practice self-care: Catch up with your friends, participate in a hobby that makes you happy, or spend some restorative time alone.

Your physical health works in tandem with your mental health, so take care of your physical needs. Studies published in Birth and the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that exercise improves the mental health of depressed pregnant and postpartum women. Numerous studies have also found that a healthy, balanced diet improves your mental health, as does getting enough sleep.

It’s important to remember that none of the alternative methods or self-care methods can replace professional help. Take a holistic approach to caring for yourself—use multiple forms of treatment to address your postpartum depression effectively.

It’s normal to feel ashamed if you have postpartum depression, but it’s important to remember that it’s a common experience. It certainly doesn’t make you a bad, incapable, or neglectful parent. Admitting you have postpartum depression and finding help is a brave decision—and a very good one for both yourself and your family.

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