Today is World Mental Health Day. I’ve written extensively on the topic of depression and anxiety in the past. Today I want to focus on a mental health concern many mothers are facing today: postpartum depression.
It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of women experience what is commonly called the post-baby blues—feelings of fatigue and worry after having a child. The post-baby blues can last for a few or several weeks. Postpartum depression is much more severe than the post-baby blues and lasts for a prolonged period of time.
Postpartum depression is much more severe than the post-baby blues and lasts for a prolonged period of time.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
- Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
- Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when her baby is asleep
- Experiencing anger or rage
- Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Eating too little or too much
- Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with her baby
- Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby
- Thinking about harming herself or her baby.
(You can read the full list of symptoms at the National Institute of Mental Health website here.)
Postpartum depression affects about 15 percent of new mothers. In recent years, awareness about postpartum depression has risen, allowing women to feel less alone in their struggle and get the help they need.
However, postpartum depression is still a major health concern and social media isn’t helping. Social media allows mothers to compare themselves to others, and it gives them access to all kinds of information that could make them feel like they aren’t doing enough for their child, making their depressive symptoms worse.
I remember when Caroline walked into my pediatric practice. She came with her mom and six-month-old twin boys. Caroline was exhausted, I could tell, but she put on a happy face and tried to cover up how tired she was.
As I examined her boys, Caroline’s mother spoke up. “Dr. Meeker, I’m terribly worried about Caroline,” she said. She proceeded to tell me that Caroline hardly slept, that she was always nursing one of the boys, and that she was worried that even though a doctor had prescribed Caroline antidepressants, she didn’t seem to be getting better.
As we talked, I realized Caroline had resolved to breastfeed her sons, even at the expense of her own health. She had read that breastfeeding was the only way to raise a healthy child. Because of this, she was not sleeping or getting the rest she needed to care for her sons and her depressive symptoms were not improving.
Caroline had done what many moms do when struggling with postpartum depression. She had let the pressures of society force her beyond the brink of her own physical and mental health
I explained to Caroline and her mom the seriousness of postpartum depression and the role that elevated oxytocin, which is associated with breastfeeding, played in the depression. I discussed the potential impact of her depression on the boys. I suggested Caroline wean her boys and put them on formula so she could get the rest that she needed.
I could tell Caroline was resistant but eventually, she agreed to at least try weaning the boys.
Being a mom today is hard. Being a mom with postpartum depression is even harder. There are a million voices out there telling you what’s right for your baby and what’s wrong. Many of these voices are spreading anecdotal, rather then peer-reviewed, information, and the comparison could be causing you more anxiety and depression.
Don’t let social media or bloggers tell you what is best for your baby. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, make an appointment with your doctor. Get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. This will probably include a mix of medication and therapy, and you might have to let go of some of the “shoulds” you’ve put on yourself based on the other moms you know, but trust me, to have get your sanity back, your sleep back and your life back, it will be worth it.
Don’t let social media or bloggers tell you what is best for your baby.
To learn more about postpartum depression, visit the National Institute of Mental Health at nimh.nih.gov.
To learn more about World Mental Health Day, visit the World Federation of Mental Health at their website here.