Becoming a new mom can be one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life. The births of both of my daughters were two of the best days of my life. However, even with the amount of pure joy and infinite love that I felt, it wasn’t enough to prevent the onset of postpartum depression. Nine months after my first daughter was born, I was diagnosed with PPD and put on anti-depressant medication. Often times women are diagnosed much sooner, and sometimes not at all. It can be hard to see from the outside. The beautiful newborn photos, smiling faces and all the cute clothing and pastel baby goodies around can create a soft distraction. I didn’t know I had postpartum depression, nor did my family or friends. And if they did know or had a feeling something was going on, no one told me.
I had started seeing a therapist early on in my pregnancy, not for any specific problem, but rather as prevention. As I progressed along with my pregnancy and moved closer to motherhood, I thought it would help me to be the best mom I could be. After my daughter was born, I continued seeing my therapist, and it was it was in one of our sessions that she mentioned postpartum depression. She recommended I see a specialist. In the doctor’s office I took a multiple choice “test” and the results were clear- that is the day that I was told I had postpartum depression.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and now it is clear to me what I hadn’t realized then. I can now see all the signs and symptoms that I pushed through or pushed down as I focused on the day to day details of raising my daughter. What are those signs and symptoms? How do you know if you or someone you love is suffering from PPD? Here is a list to help you recognize postpartum depression:
- EMOTIONAL: Depressed mood. Extreme mood swings. Frequent feelings of defeat, frustration, sadness and/or anxiety. We all have ups and downs, however the feelings may be stronger and the swings more extreme. Keeping a journal can help to bring awareness to your emotions and feelings on a day to day basis. It also provides a good way to look back and notice triggers, changes or patterns over time. If you notice your feelings of depression, worry, fear, angst, anger, frustration, and/or sadness becoming more intense and lasting longer, seek out someone to talk to and find support from a doctor or therapist.
- MENTAL: Thoughts come and go, and usually they’re about the day to day, the to-do list and what’s for dinner. However, sometimes thoughts can become troubling and intense. One of the symptoms that troubled me the most was my fear of dropping my baby over the second floor railing. I would run from my bedroom to her nursery, clutching her tightly as fear gripped my body. My thoughts turned to the ease with which I could easily drop her over the railing. I never believed that I would actually do it, but the thought of how easily it could happen terrified me. Different thoughts like this happened often and preoccupied me beyond reason. If you are having scary thoughts that include potential harm to yourself or your baby, seek out professional support.
- PHYSICAL: Fatigue. Loss of appetite. Overeating. Difficulty sleeping. Wanting to sleep all the time. Lack of enjoyment in activities you normally enjoy. Withdrawing from friends and/or family. Difficulty bonding with baby. These are all physical signs and symptoms related to PPD. Some of these may sound like natural consequences of life with a new baby (fatigue, anyone?), but if they occur in excess alongside some of the mental and emotional symptoms described above and last more than two weeks or so, definitely consult your doctor.
PPD is not one-size-fits-all and women will experience it differently, at different times and to various degrees. It can set in immediately after birth or several months later. It can be intense, all-encompassing and obvious or subtle and varying in intensity over time. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one in your life, don’t stay silent. Connect and reach out for help. If you suspect that you or someone you care about is currently experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, contact a trusted doctor or therapist and visit these helpful recourses:
Since I experienced PPD after the birth of my first daughter, I did what I could to prevent it from happening after the birth of my second daughter. I took better care of myself, asked for more support and hired a postpartum doula. Prevention is extremely important. Below are a few ideas that can help to prevent PPD.
New moms need to be mothered as they care for their brand new babies. Try these supportive ways to create a loving environment for new moms in our lives:
-Bring them meals or send them a meal delivery service.
-Help them clean, do laundry or hire someone to help them around the house.
-Invite them for a tea or coffee or just to sit around the house in your pajamas.
-Call and check in, something more than a text message.
-Offer to hold their baby or just watch their baby while they take a nap.
-If you have the resources and they are interested, hire a postpartum doula
For moms and moms-to-be, remember that no two pregnancies, births, mothers or babies are exactly the same. We all have things in common, but it’s important to know that your experience is solely yours and not to judge yourself against others, societal standards or your own preset expectations. Be gentle and kind with yourself and ask for any help you may need. Self-care during pregnancy and the postpartum period is essential to your well-being and overall health and will help create a strong foundation for the months and years after your baby’s birth.