After an exhausting pregnancy and a challenging delivery, you have finally returned home with your baby. You expect the weeks and months that follow to be the happiest time of your life but instead you find yourself feeling quickly overwhelmed and frustrated. One minute everything seems fine, and the next you feel a wave of sadness and are unable to stop crying. You hold your baby, expecting to feel an instant bond but instead you are filled with anger and resentment, or maybe even nothing at all. You start feeling guilty because this isn’t what you expected motherhood to look like, and you begin to question whether you are even cut out to be a mother. Looking online only serves to fuel this fear as you are bombarded with images of mothers posed happily with their own babies who appear to be handling everything perfectly. You start to wonder: “will I feel this way forever?”
New mothers in North America are under an enormous amount of pressure to be the “perfect mother”. We are surrounded by exaggerated images and views of what motherhood should look like. Not only do new mothers struggle with this unrealistic societal pressure, but many feel ashamed to admit to having negative thoughts or feelings about their new baby in fear of being labeled a “bad mother”.
What is Postpartum Depression?
While many new mothers experience the “baby blues” within the first 2 to 3 weeks following delivery, these feelings are short-lived and typically resolve on their own. The term Postpartum depression (PPD) is most frequently used by clinicians and researchers to describe a depressive episode that occurs during pregnancy or anytime within 12 months after delivery (Ross, Dennis, Blackmore, & Stewart, 2005). Although symptoms for the two may initially appear similar, PPD lasts longer, is more severe, and requires treatment. Common symptoms include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and frequent crying
- Feelings of anger and irritability
- Lack of interest in your baby
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulties sleeping and increased fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby**
(**If you are concerned about your immediate safety or the safety of your baby call 911 or the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team 902-429-8167)
It is important to note that PPD is just one of a number of Perinatal Mood Disorders including Postpartum anxiety, Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, and postpartum psychosis. For more information on these conditions please visit: http://www.postpartum.net/
Who Can Develop Postpartum Depression?
Current research suggests that in Canada, 8-9% of new mothers are affected by PPD (Lanes, Kuk, & Tamim, 2011). While there is no single cause, there are some factors that may put new mothers at a higher risk (Ross et al., 2005):
- Family history of mood disorders
- Previous history of mood disorders
- Recent stressful life event (loss of a loved one, divorce, job loss, moving to a new house, immigrating)
- Lack of social support
- Pregnancy and delivery complications
- Social inequalities (low income, low education, inadequate housing, unemployment)
Although more commonly seen in new mothers, it is important to note that fathers as well as adoptive parents can also struggle with symptoms of PPD.
While self-care is not a substitute for professional help, some mothers may find certain strategies helpful for reducing their symptoms and increasing their feelings of empowerment:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help and take advantage of offers to help from family and friends.
- Get as much sleep as possible and try to eat well.
- Find time to exercise- even getting out for a short walk can help.
- Develop a support network- reach out to other mothers that you know or use social media to find a support group. Online support can be just as effective as meeting in person.
- Try to involve your partner as much as possible to decrease the pressure of trying to do everything yourself.
- Lower your expectations of what you think motherhood “should” look like- take it one day at a time and know that doing your best is good enough.
Helping a Loved One
If you are worried about a loved one who you feel may be suffering from PPD there are a number of things you can do:
- Offer to take the baby so she can rest
- Reassure her that you love her and want to support her
- Encourage her to talk about how she is feeling
- Remind her that she is a good mother
- Offer to accompany her to therapy
- Find time to take care of yourself so you can continue to support her
Getting Professional Help
If you find you are struggling with symptoms of PPD you may benefit from talking to your doctor and seeking help from a licensed psychologist. PPD is a serious but temporary condition that is treatable with professional help. Psychotherapy can help to reduce symptoms of depression by exploring painful feelings and unrealistic expectations surrounding the transition to becoming a new mother and can also help to improve important interpersonal relationships.
Lanes, A., Kuk, J., & Tamim, H. (2011). Prevalence and characteristics of Postpartum Depression symptomatology among Canadian women: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health 11:302.
Ross, L., Dennis, C., Blackmore, E., & Stewart, D. (2005). Postpartum Depression: A Guide for Front-line Health and Social Service Providers. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.