Most women have heard the terms baby blues or postpartum depression. A more appropriate term to use for the general mood changes after birth is postpartum mood adjustment. Postpartum simply means “after birth.” “Mood adjustment” is a more encompassing term, since depression is just one of several mood adjustments sometimes experienced by mothers during their baby’s first year. In addition to depression, new mothers may experience symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks, an increase of obsessive or compulsive behaviors, or intrusive thoughts, which are unwelcome and disturbing.
Different Types of Postpartum Mood Adjustment
The “baby blues” is a temporary phase often within the first week after birth, when the new mom may feel weepy, overwhelmed, and anxious. This emotional roller coaster of moods usually passes without treatment by about two weeks after delivery.
Postpartum Depression or Anxiety are mood disorders which may occur at any time during a baby’s first year, and are typically more intense in experience. They tend to interfere with daily functioning and generally do not improve on their own.
Signs of depression can often be discounted as typical “new mom” fatigue. Signs of depression can include exhaustion, changes in sleeping pattern (even taking into account a new baby’s restless nights), difficulty thinking clearly or making decisions, feeling detached or emotionally flat, feeling hopeless as if things will never get better, or having thoughts that others would be better off without you. Some women think about harming themselves or their babies. Depression is a serious illness, and there is help available to feel better.
Other common postpartum mood disorders include anxiety and panic disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Anxiety may feel like a constant state of dread or worry. OCD is often described as unwelcome or intrusive thoughts or behaviors that one knows are unreasonable, but are still unable to control. Sometimes those suffering with anxiety or OCD feel their mind is racing or that they are unable to sleep, rest, or relax. Others may have fears they know are not reasonable but still can’t help, and may be afraid to be left alone with the baby.
Research shows that 15% or more of new mothers may experience significant postpartum mood adjustment issues during their baby’s first year. Even if this does not apply to you, it’s likely that you will know someone who is struggling. By understanding these symptoms, you might be able to offer support, encouragement, or resources to a friend, relative, or coworker. The majority of women delay or fail to seek professional help in order to treat their symptoms and feel better.
There are some factors that may increase the risk of developing postpartum depression or anxiety issues: prior history of depression, OCD or anxiety, or having a mother with a history of postpartum depression. If you have a history of depression, OCD or anxiety, it’s important to discuss your concerns with your caregivers and have a support plan in place for responding to any postpartum mood adjustment issues if they occur. Other risk factors include a stressful or high risk pregnancy, or lack of support from a spouse, partner, family, or friends.
Speak with your healthcare provider if you are having emotional concerns or symptoms that interfere with your thought process, energy level, sleep or appetite, or are causing you concern or distress. Medication and short-term therapy can both be instrumental to feeling better. Many of the anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications now in use have minimal side effects and may not interfere with breastfeeding.
Two excellent online resources which provide information and support are: