Congratulations! You're pregnant, or a new parent and there's so much to be excited about. This life event will forever change you. Although there will be some sleepless nights and lots of diaper changes, each new milestone will fill you with pride you've never felt before.
But what if you have other "feels" that no one's talking about? You know, like depression, anxiety, anger, crying at the drop of a hat, and constantly being on an emotional roller coaster?
First, know that it's okay. It is not an uncommon occurrence to have a large array of emotions from extreme happiness and giddiness to depression, anxiety, and, yes, even anger. The female body goes through a lot of changes with each pregnancy and a LOT of hormonal changes. No wonder your mind is having a hard time figuring out how you are feeling or thinking!
It is also typical for a new mother to have difficulties bonding with her new child. IF this happens to you, this does not mean that you are a bad parent. Much of the way your emotions are working is out of your control. What is in your control is recognizing when the
emotions you are feeling are unhealthy, unusual, or potentially dangerous, and then talking to someone about this. Many of these emotions will normalize back to your baseline over time as your body's hormones rebalance; however, it is wise to let your doctor know how you are feeling and always remember to seek help if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself, your infant, or others.
These emotional changes and mood instabilities are so common after birth the medical field even has a name for them: Postpartum depressive disorders. There are actually 3 levels of the postpartum depressive mood disturbances. We will discuss each in depth and review some signs.
Postpartum blues, also known as "Baby blues" are associated with fluctuation in moods, anxiety, weepiness, and/or irritability that presents after giving birth. Signs may include:
Feeling sad, anxious, or overwhelmed
These symptoms will likely last for
a couple weeks and subside as the body adjusts to its hormone levels. This level of postpartum is incredibly common and experienced by most women who give birth. I'm sure some of you reading this can relate...like weeping uncontrollably while rocking your sleeping newborn baby because he's growing too quickly!
Postpartum depression can happen at any time during the first year after giving birth, however, it typically starts around the first couple of months. The symptoms may at first appear to be the "baby blues" but these symptoms do not subside over time. Some defining symptoms of postpartum depression include:
Chronic (lasting 6 months or more) feelings of guilt or worthlessness
Profound feelings of failure as a mother
Loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
Intense feelings of despair that interfere with daily responsibilities and self-care (i.e. eating, sleeping, etc.)
Panic and anxiety attacks
Thoughts of harming self or their baby
Withdrawing from partner and/or other close relationships
Difficulties in bonding with the baby as a result of these symptoms
If you are experiencing postpartum depression, reach out to your medical provider as it might take some treatments and interventions to help get you back to your normal baseline. Without help, there could be long-lasting negative effects for both mother and child.
Postpartum psychosis is relatively rare, occurring in about 1 or 2 for every 1,000 births. However, this condition is more severe than postpartum depression. The symptoms usually emerge within the first few days or weeks after delivery and are characterized by the severity of mood shifts that often resemble rapid-cycling bipolar moods. Symptoms may start off similar to those seen in baby blues and postpartum depression, but the following signs are what distinguish postpartum psychosis from the others:
Initial restlessness, irritability, or insomnia that is accompanied by severe and sudden shifts in mood.
Some may experience hallucinations (these frequently involve violence to themselves and others, including their baby.)
Feeling confusion and exhibiting disoriented behavior
Rapid mood swings similar to bipolar disorder
Attempting to harm self or baby
The behavior demonstrated is usually a sudden departure from the individual's previous persona. They may demonstrate paranoia, grandeur, and even delusions and disorganized thinking. Women who have bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder have a much higher risk of experiencing postpartum psychosis, but it can happen to anyone. If any of these behaviors are noted, the individual should be evaluated by a medical professional immediately to prevent harm to self, others, and infant.
Whether you are a mother experiencing the baby blues, postpartum depression, or postpartum psychosis; it can be helpful
to see your provider and discuss your symptoms. After all, the body goes through so much during the process of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum it makes sense that you might need a little extra help; even if it's just someone to talk to, a provider to help setup a care plan, or treatment to help your body get back to its hormonal balance. No matter how you react after birth and through postpartum, it is a process that varies from person to person and it does not reflect your value as a mother. If you or a loved one is experiencing some difficulty transitioning back to normal hormonal balance while pregnant, following birth, or even a year later, please don't hesitate to reach out to the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline or your doctor.
This month, HRSA announced the launch of the Maternal Mental Health Hotline, a new, confidential, toll-free hotline for expecting and new moms experiencing mental health challenges. With an initial $3 million investment, the hotline was launched on Mother’s Day. The new National Maternal Mental Health Hotline provides 24/7, free, confidential support, resources and referrals to any pregnant and postpartum mothers facing mental health challenges and their loved ones. The service is available via phone and text in English or Spanish. Those who contact the hotline can receive a range of support in real-time, including brief interventions from trained counselors who are culturally and trauma-informed, as well as referrals to both community-based and telehealth providers as needed. Callers also will receive evidence-based information and referrals to support groups and other community resources.
The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline link:
The hotline is accessible by phone or text at 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (1-833-943-5746) in English and Spanish. TTY Users can use a preferred relay service or dial 711 and then 1-833-943-5746.
FAQs about the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline
View promotional materials National Maternal Mental Health Hotline materials
NOTE: the Maternal Mental Health Hotline is not intended as an emergency response line and individuals in behavioral health crisis should continue to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).