The birth of a child is an event in a woman’s life that often brings a sense of overwhelming joy. But this is not always the case...and even when excitement and anticipation are at their peak, they can come amid a slew of other not-so-great feelings, too. As it turns out, 1 in 5 women suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders including postpartum depression or PPD.
Thankfully, there is finally a national conversation happening about the prevalence of PPD. For too long, women have kept their uncomfortable feelings and thoughts about becoming moms to themselves, for fear of judgment and guilt over not being the “perfect mother” that we so often see on diaper commercials, mommy blogs, and the like. More and more women are coming forward and sharing their stories - thus normalizing PPD – and assuring mommies everywhere that it’s common and treatable.
Difference Between PPD and “Baby Blues”
It is vital to make a distinction between two similar yet very different conditions.
“Baby Blues” is a common term used to describe the feelings of “worry, unhappiness and fatigue” that many women experience after giving birth. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that up to 80 percent of women experience them. Unlike PPD, the above mentioned feelings are mild in comparison, and generally dissipate after a week or two.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) also evokes these feelings, but the degree to which they are experienced is magnified. Also, other symptoms will often surface.. More mild to moderate PPD symptoms respond best to outpatient treatment while more acute symptoms respond best to a day program model of care. So, what are some signs that you or someone you know may have PPD?
1. INABILITY OR UNWILLINGNESS TO MAKE DECISIONS
Anxiety is a near-universal symptom of those with Postpartum Depression (PPD) – and it is often extreme. For first-time mothers, this anxiety can even seem debilitating; making it much more difficult to make any decision.
But decision-making for those with PPD often involves fear, too. A woman with PPD is already having a tough time making choices, but when it comes to having to decide on something relating to baby care (e.g. feeding, nourishing), a sense of fear -- mostly, of doing something wrong -- can take hold on top of everything else she’s thinking and feeling.
2. Frequent CRYING OR EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS
As with all Postpartum Depression (PPD)-related symptoms, the depressive feelings felt by those with the condition are magnified, making the person more susceptible to its effects. Severe depression drastically changes the chemical makeup of the brain, including serotonin – the neurotransmitter responsible for mood stabilization. For mothers with PPD, this chemical alteration of the brain – combined with sleep deprivation and the inevitable stress that motherhood brings – can result in an overwhelming flood of emotions. This emotional buildup can manifest into frequent of crying, anger, verbal outbursts, and other “erratic” behavior.
3. BEING EXHAUSTED, YET UNABLE TO SLEEP
To begin with, new mothers often do not get an adequate amount of sleep. Feeding and taking care of a newborn throughout the night is a common routine, after all. In most circumstances, when the child is asleep, the new mother will compensate for any sleep deficiencies by falling asleep herself.
However, due to a myriad of reasons (including those on this list), Postpartum Depression (PPD) patients often report the inability to fall asleep – a condition known as insomnia, or an inability to stay asleep even when the baby is sleeping. This unhealthy cycle further complicates an already difficult situation.
4. THOUGHTS OF HURTING SELF OR BABY
Thoughts of hurting self or the baby, also referred to as “scary or intrusive thoughts” can be very common in women suffering from PPD. Unfortunately, many PPD patients are too ashamed or embarrassed to seek out guidance for these thoughts. But psychiatrists and clinicians are adamant in supporting the fact that there is no shame to seeking help. In fact, many women that have sought help received prompt reassurance, not to mention a treatment plan that can help them through this difficult time.
5. FEELINGS OF INTENSE ANGER AND RAGE
Typically, when we think of PPD, we think of sadness, despair, weepiness, helplessness and hopelessness. But depression can also be characterized by irritability, frustration, anger, and even rage. These feelings may be directed toward your partner, your baby, your other children, or yourself.
Anger can take the form of yelling, fighting, withdrawing, isolating yourself, hostile feelings toward others, arguments, or chronic dissatisfaction. It's typically accompanied by related feelings of being trapped, resentful, and full of guilt.
Anger is one of the most troubling symptoms of PPD because it's scary, and usually quite uncharacteristic for the woman experiencing it. It can make you feel as though you're slipping out of control: Even moms who say they would never hurt their baby or themselves may fear that something undesirable will result from their anger.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to find out if it is in fact PPD. Women can feel better with therapy, medication, and -- in more acute situations – participating is a partial hospitalization program. To schedule an evaluation with one of our clinicians at The Motherhood Center today to find out – call 212-335-0034. We are here to help!
Paige Bellenbaum, LMSW is the Program Director at The Motherhood Center. After experiencing severe postpartum and depression after the birth of her son, once she got better she made it her plight to ensure that women would not have to suffer as she had. In 2016, she joined forces with The Motherhood Center founders, Dr. Catherine Birndorf and Billy Ingram, and together, with an excellent team of reproductive Psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and specialists, treatment for mild to severe ppd symptoms is available for pregnant and new moms that are suffering. And the good news is, with treatment - everyone feels better.