What is Postpartum Depression?
Everything about the birth of a new baby is an emotional rollercoaster. From sleepless nights to busybody grandparents, the first few months of motherhood are undoubtedly hectic.
But for some mothers, this time is neither joyful nor exciting, but lonely and troubling.
Postpartum depression is different from the “baby blues.”
Baby blues is a period of sadness many women experience after giving birth. Caused by a sudden drop in hormones, baby blues are perfectly normal and last about one to two weeks.
However, if feelings of anxiety and depression persist and intensify, the mother has possibly developed postpartum depression.
Affecting 1 in 8 women in the United States, postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder that typically develops the first few weeks or up to a year after giving birth. For some, it may even develop during pregnancy.
If a mother you know is experiencing postpartum depression, here’s how you can offer emotional support and encourage them to seek professional care.
How Can I Tell if Someone is Dealing with Postpartum Depression? The Signs to Know
Postpartum depression manifests in different ways and, like pregnancy, no single experience is the same. However, there are commonalities.
New moms may misunderstand what they’re feeling and believe they’re somehow failing at motherhood. Mothers with older children may also be caught off-guard, especially if they’ve never experienced postpartum depression before.
The exact cause of PPD is debated, but it’s theorized postpartum depression is caused by sudden hormonal changes following birth.
Women with a personal or family history of depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder are at risk of developing PPD. A lack of emotional support, birth complications, and financial issues can also contribute.
To best care for a loved one during this, it’s important to know what to look out for before starting the conversation.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
Excessive crying, depressed moods, or extreme mood swings
The mental health of new moms can be deeply affected by pregnancy hormones and other bodily changes.
Mothers with postpartum depression may cry constantly, appear depressed or listless, and have trouble controlling their moods. They may lash out or act “overly emotional.”
Difficulty bonding with the baby
Mothers with PPD sometimes remark that they feel “nothing” when looking at their baby and struggle to bond them. They may also become so stressed or paranoid about the baby’s well-being, they’re reluctant to be around them, much less hold them.
Withdrawing from close friends and family members
Mothers suffering from PPD often struggle with feelings of guilt or worthlessness. They may blame themselves for their mental illness and pull away from loved ones.
They may refuse visitors, decline invitations from friends, and emotionally or physically distance themselves from their partners.
Thoughts of harming oneself or the baby
Mothers with PPD may struggle with suicidal thoughts or think about harming their baby.
In severe cases, these thoughts can manifest as delusions or hallucinations. This is called postpartum psychosis and requires immediate help.
Strange changes in appetite
Mental illness can also cause physical changes. While suffering from depression, a mother may overeat or undereat and experience rapid weight loss or gain.
Inability to sleep, loss of energy, and overwhelming fatigue
For mothers with PPD, sleep is almost impossible. They may be unable to relax or are too consumed with anxiety to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time.
Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
As with clinical depression, mothers with PDD may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may feel listless or unmotivated and reject any attempt to get out of the house, exercise, watch a movie, or other activities they used to enjoy.
8 Ways to Help Someone with Postpartum Depression
The perinatal period (the period before and after birth) is emotionally and physically intense, especially in the case of PPD.
If left untreated, symptoms can worsen or prolong. In some cases, depressive symptoms can persist for three years after birth and could even affect the health of the baby.
A serious medical condition, postpartum depression requires professional care to overcome and possibly medication, such as antidepressants or sleeping aids.
Most of all, however, a mother needs emotional support.
If you’d like to help someone you know get through postpartum depression, here are a few things you can do:
1. Provide a safe space and time to listen to her
The first year of a baby’s life is stressful for any mother, but especially for those struggling with PPD.
As they overcome challenges and discover new ones, you can provide a safe space for them to express themselves and a shoulder to cry on whenever they need it. New mothers with PPD often experience an emotion close to grief; try to help her through this transitional phase of her life by having open talks and listening intently.
2. Focus on her, not the baby
Babies are exciting and require lots of love and attention, but for mothers grappling with mental health issues, it’s easy to feel neglected.
If you are a friend or family member, try to hang out with her without the baby involved. If you are her partner or spouse, schedule some alone time so you can focus on her needs.
3. Celebrate her successes as a mother and notice the small things
Motherhood is filled with triumphs and disappointments. For mothers with postpartum depression, it’s easy to fixate on mistakes or what they perceive as mistakes.
Remind her that she’s a good mother and acknowledge the little victories. Praise her for completing chores, making plans, or just taking five seconds to prioritize her needs.
4. Offer to babysit so she can enjoy some alone time
When people become parents, they develop a new identity, but they don’t need to lose themselves in dirty diapers and sleepless nights.
Offer to babysit on weekends so she can focus on self-care and catch up on sleep. If she’s comfortable with it, get the whole family involved and take the kids out for the day.
5. Don’t compare her to other mothers
Hypercritical thoughts can be intense and even obsessive for mothers with postpartum depression.
If they are a first-time mom, don’t bring up other mothers’ experiences (especially if you are a mother yourself). If they have older children, don’t compare her relationship with them with that of the newborn. Avoid debates about breastfeeding, vaccines, schools, and childcare in general.
6. Remind her that this is temporary
A mother with PPD may believe she’ll be depressed forever. Remind her that this isn’t true and how she feels isn’t her fault. She will have good days while she fights depression and, before she knows it, she’ll have overcome this chapter of her life.
7. If welcomed, help her maintain a balanced diet and exercise routine
Another way you can support a mom with PPD is through food and exercise.
If she is receptive, encourage her to eat better and more regularly. If you live together, take over cooking responsibilities and help her maintain a healthier diet without forcing it upon her. You can also motivate her to exercise and set up a simple routine together, like daily walks or yoga.
8. Get her the resources and professional help she needs
Through professional care and emotional support, postpartum depression can be treated.
Encourage her to speak with mental health professionals who can offer additional resources and treatment plans like psychotherapy. You can also recommend support groups where she can communicate with other mothers who’ve experienced PPD.
Remote and completely confidential, Emote’s team of therapists and counselors can provide much-needed insight at a moment’s notice. With exclusive payment plans, new mothers are free to communicate in whatever they feel comfortable.
How Emote Online Therapy Can Support New Mothers
If someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, the best thing you can do is offer them support and remind them that they’re not alone.
At Emote, we provide quality care for new parents.
Whether they’re struggling with feelings of resentment or childcare, Emote’s therapists can provide a safe space for them that’s free of judgment, responsibilities, and parenting stress.
Under the guidance of a licensed professional, they’ll learn how to cope with depression and manage self-critical thoughts. All this and more can be done from the comfort of home.
Sign up today to be matched with an experienced therapist from your state. With Emote, your first week of therapy will only cost $35.