When Having a Baby Doesn’t Make You Happy
Have you ever experienced or heard about a mom who, after having a new baby, is sad and unhappy, or even seems uninterested in her baby? Have you met any moms who seem overly worried and fret excessively about their baby? These moms may be suffering from postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.
According to the World Health Organization one out of every 7 women develop postpartum depression or anxiety within a few months after having a baby. PDD can develop during pregnancy, or within days, weeks, or even months after having a baby. Postpartum depression and anxiety can also last for several months, especially if left untreated, and there is a high risk of developing PDD in future pregnancies once someone has a history of it.
And yet, these conditions still seem to be poorly understood and, according to the American Psychological Association, still largely under-diagnosed. That is why I want to share this article about postpartum depression and anxiety. I will describe some of the symptoms, as well as some of the factors that place women at risk of developing these conditions, treatment options, and what you can do if you someone you care about is struggling with these conditions.
What is the difference between postpartum depression and “baby blues?”
It is quite common for new moms to experience the “baby blues.” I remember feeling weepy, irritable, and moody when my son was born. Even as a psychology student at the time, it was upsetting because I did not feel like myself. Other “baby blues” symptoms might include feeling restless, exhausted, impatient, and having poor concentration.
The thing that separates this from postpartum depression is that the above symptoms are more severe in nature, and there are additional symptoms present. You may experience:
Feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy
Feelings of emptiness and sadness
Loss of pleasure and joy
Lack of interest in the baby
Difficulty bonding with the baby
Withdrawal from friends and family
Thoughts of harming oneself of the baby
In rare cases there may be psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions
In the case of postpartum anxiety you may experience:
Trouble with sleep
A sense of dread
Risk factors for PDD
There are several factors that may make a mom more likely to develop postpartum depression or anxiety. Some of these are internal factors related to the mom herself, some are related to the baby, the pregnancy or delivery, and yet other factors have to do with external circumstances. This is not an exhaustive list.
Personal or familial history of depression or anxiety
Being a first-time, very young, or older mother
Related to baby, pregnancy, or birth
Unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
Complications in pregnancy and/or delivery
Baby is born premature
Baby has an illness or medical condition
Baby is hard to comfort or has unpredictable sleep or eating cycles
Isolation or lack of social support
Stressful circumstances surrounding the pregnancy or birth (e.g. a divorce or separation, loss of a loved one, major financial stress, work-related stress)
Treatment and Hope
Sadly, many moms don’t receive any treatment because practitioners and the public do not always recognize postpartum depression or anxiety. But you should know that treatment is available. Options include psychotherapy, medication, and support groups.
As an adjunct to professional treatment, I believe that we can all help women with postpartum depression and anxiety by becoming educated so that we can recognize the symptoms and offer support to any moms who may be struggling. Below are some Do’s and Don’ts about how to help a friend or relative if you see them display the aforementioned symptoms.
How to help: The DO’s and DON’Ts
DO offer empathy. Remember that empathy is about sitting with the other person and feeling her pain without trying to fix or solve anything. Just listen, tell her that you’re there for her and that you want to know how she’s been feeling.
DO let her know that you see how hard she’s trying, that she is not choosing this. This is important to help dispel the shame that often accompanies PDD, and it separates the person from her symptoms.
DO discuss with her the possibility of postpartum depression or anxiety and encourage her to get evaluated by a professional. Let her know there is help.
DO offer concrete help, as opposed to a blanket statement: “call me if you need anything.” Instead, stop by with food, or help her clean the house or do laundry, or hold the baby so she can take a break.
DON’T judge her.
DON’T minimize the problem by telling her that what she’s experiencing is “normal” or “just the baby blues.”
DON’T tell her why she should not be feeling depressed and or why she should be happy. This will only increase the sense of shame she already feels.
DON’T just throw out quick solutions (e.g. “you just need some rest” or “you’ll feel better if you go for walks”). Instead encourage her to talk with a professional who knows about PDD and how to treat it.
How I can help
Postpartum depression and anxiety can make you feel ashamed, hopeless, worthless, and alone. These conditions are often misunderstood, especially in light of the myths about motherhood that permeate our culture. It is important for you to know that you're not alone and that postpartum depression and anxiety can be successfully treated.
In my work I provide support and validation of your feelings and experiences, including those around motherhood. Once you feel ready and we have a solid trusting and collaborative relationship I can teach you coping skills to help you change the negative thoughts that lead to depressive feelings, as well as self-compassion and self-care skills so that you can begin to feel normal again, and be the kind of mom that you want to be.
I also strive to offer flexibility by providing the option of therapy sessions online or on the phone, so that you can access the help you need without ever having to leave your home. Additionally, I offer secure messaging so that you can reach me in-between sessions with questions or concerns. To discuss further what it would be like to work with me, contact me for a free 30-minute phone consultation.