Postpartum Depression: When to Seek Help 

Being a new mother can feel overwhelming some days, whether you’ve had your first baby or your fourth. Just like each baby is unique, there is no “right way” for women to feel after giving birth, and no set bounce-back time when moms are expected to act like themselves again. For several weeks after delivering a baby, women may feel varying degrees of worry or restlessness and lots of fatigue. It’s important to know when these are fleeting – often described as the “baby blues” – and when symptoms should be characterized as postpartum depression, a treatable condition that requires a doctor’s help.  

The “baby blues” are not depression. The term “baby blues” gets tossed around a lot when talking about the emotional ups and downs that often follow childbirth. That term is best used when talking about feelings of short-term worry, crying jags, fatigue and sadness that many women say they experience following childbirth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are symptoms that will clear up on their own within a few days. Some women experience them a day or two after delivery, while others may have a combination of feelings within the first few weeks after a birth. These brief feelings are not postpartum depression.  

What is postpartum depression? Some people may mistake postpartum depression for the baby blues initially, but the main difference is real depression symptoms are more severe and last longer. According to the Mayo Clinic, women battling postpartum depression have emotional and physical symptoms that make it difficult to properly care for themselves and their baby in the weeks or months following childbirth. These symptoms can also crop up during a pregnancy, or up to a year after a child has been born.  

About one in every eight women who have recently given birth may experience some of the symptoms of postpartum depression, according to CDC research.  

Symptoms of postpartum depression may mirror symptoms of general depression, but they can also include: 

  • Angry feelings 
  • Worry that you might harm your baby 
  • Guilt over not being a good enough parent 
  • Doubts about your ability to care for your baby 
  • Crying frequently  
  • A numbness or feeling of disconnection from your child 

Treatment 

It’s important to know that postpartum depression is a complication of pregnancy and can be treated. Most people do get better under a doctor’s treatment. Anyone with strong thoughts of harming themselves or their children should seek immediate help. Even those with mild symptoms should contact their health care provider and talk about treatment options.  

Sometimes women with a previous history of depression or a family history of the condition are seen as a higher risk for developing postpartum depression. Some women who take antidepressants have worried it could cause complications with their pregnancies. But a new study looking at a large cross-section of women showed that antidepressant use during pregnancy was not linked to autism, ADHD, developmental disorders or other language or learning disorders in children.  

The study followed 145,000 U.S. women and their children for up to 14 years. It was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal and co-authored by instructors at Rutgers. The study’s findings should give women more peace of mind while following any prescribed mental health treatment during and after pregnancy. Any medication use during pregnancy should be discussed with a doctor. 

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