You came home from the hospital three weeks ago, a proud mom after eight grueling months of pregnancy.
You should feel on top of the world. Your baby is perfect: ten little fingers and toes, and the softest skin. The effects of labor – the tiny red spots all over your face and neck from pushing, the aching belly and back muscles, the sting of the stitches – are mostly gone. All the hormones that rushed into your blood during pregnancy have leveled off. Life is no longer an emotional roller coaster, just a rainy day.
You could probably get past – or at least get used to – the “new baby blues”: up every four hours to change and feed your little one as the laundry piles up, the floors need sweeping, the dishes threaten to overflow the sink, and dinner is pizza or whatever else can be delivered.
What you are having trouble getting used to is the fact that you are no longer the center of attention. Your friends – who used to call once a day to make sure you weren’t in labor on the basement floor – don’t call as often. Your husband or significant other jokes that you look like a zombie, albeit without the blood.
You know he (or she) is right, so you set aside a half-hour a day to shower, run a comb through your hair, and put on lipstick and blusher. Or at least you try to, but it seems baby has other ideas, and invariably starts crying the moment you step inside the shower. Your reaction is “oh, shit!”, and you wonder if maybe having a baby was a bad idea. A very bad idea.
Your mood plunges – to a place you have never been before. You feel excessive fatigue, decreased sex drive, loss of appetite (or the desire to gorge), and frequent changes in your response to others. Worse, you feel them far more often, and more intensely, than seems warranted. Even your gorgeous, extremely sexy husband or significant other is puzzled by your lack of interest, because you used to be the hottest thing since habanero chili peppers.
You may have postpartum depression, or PPD. Because the symptoms so readily mimic the feelings and behaviors of women who have recently given birth, it’s sometimes hard to tell. However, if the behaviors persist beyond the first two weeks, and get stronger rather than fading, you probably have PPD.
Other symptoms of PPD include:
Loss of pleasure in things you once loved
Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness
Thoughts of death or suicide
Thoughts or hurting someone else, including those closest to you
A number of risk factors can influence whether you get PPD. These are:
A history of depression
A history of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD
Your age at the time of pregnancy (the younger you are, the greater the likelihood)
A pregnancy that runs contradictory to your plans for life
The more children you already have, the greater the probability you will develop PPD
Having few friends or family, and no husband or SO to offer support and encouragement
A conflicted relationship
The most important fact a woman undergoing PPD should take to heart is that the problem can be resolved. Between regular therapy sessions and antidepressant medicines – some of which can be taken while nursing – new moms stand a better-than-average chance of beating PPD.
Most therapists will also recommend joining a support group, because there is strength in numbers and problems seem smaller when you can talk them out with like-minded new moms!
Dwan Reed, PhD, LCSW, DTM, of Tallae Counseling & Wellness Center is a therapist specializing in Depression Counseling in Houston, TX.