Normal vs. Common
I would say I probably see someone posting in one of my various mom groups about postpartum emotional difficulties at least once a week. Often the responses talk about how it is “normal” to feel sad, irritable, exhausted, anxious and overwhelmed as a new mom. Many respondents talk about their own struggles post childbirth. While well meaning, this type of response can be damaging and dissuade women from getting help that they made need. To me, “normal” translates to “undeserving of treatment.”
80% of moms suffer from what is known as “baby blues.” This is a period right after birth of increased emotionality and sadness often resulting from the sudden shift in hormones and lack of adequate rest that occurs with labor and childbirth. The key to understanding the difference between “baby blues” and something more serious is that symptoms of “baby blues” should resolve within 10-14 days. 80% definitely makes something common and I suppose, normal, as long as the symptoms are not interfering with a mother’s ability to care for herself or her newborn. Moms who have “baby blues” remain generally positive overall.
If your baby is older than 14 days and you are experiencing emotional symptoms, then it’s time to chat with a professional – that can be your OB/midwife or a mental health provider. Even your child’s pediatrician should be able to assist as your mental health has a direct relationship to your baby's overall development. Symptoms of postpartum depression can include sadness, feeling overwhelmed, hopelessness, irritability, difficulty sleeping and/or guilt. Sometimes, suicidal thoughts can be present. Postpartum anxiety is also very common - symptoms include excessive worry, agitation or intrusive thoughts. You may feel disconnected from your baby or on the opposite end of the spectrum, unable to separate or trust others with your baby. Moms who went through a traumatic birth or who had a baby in the NICU are at especially high risk for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (more on that in another post). These symptoms can make it difficult to care for yourself or your baby.
I know the stigma is significant. Mood disorders are the #1 complication of pregnancy/childbirth, yet only 15% of moms get treatment. Many moms report that they are embarrassed or feel self-conscious talking to someone about these issues. Fortunately, postpartum depression/anxiety are very treatable with appropriate intervention. Having depression or anxiety does not equate to being a “bad” mom or to personal failure. It does not *mean* anything about you other than that you are human.
Becoming a mom is difficult and can be exceedingly lonely, even under the best circumstances. All of us can use more support. So please call your doctor, a therapist, a postpartum doula or just a friend and share. The more we talk about these difficulties, the easier it will be for moms of the future to be proactive and get the help they need.