Having a child can evoke a tumultuous storm of emotions. Feelings of sheer excitement can fill a house, as parents anticipate and dream about the upcoming days and months with their bouncing bundles of joy. That same house can be filled with nervous energy, anxiety, and endless worry that they are going to get the parenting thing all wrong. The house may be surrounded by love, sheer joy, and happiness, as parents dreamily eye their newborn and wonder how they got so lucky. However, in this same house, depression, loneliness, and feelings of hopelessness may also be quietly lurking beneath.
The majority of new mothers experience postpartum “baby blues” during the first two weeks after giving birth. “Baby blues” can include mood swings, bouts of tearfulness, disrupted sleeping, and feelings of anxiety, which can all be attributed to significant hormonal changes. The “baby blues” tend to alleviate for most at about two weeks post partum, but for others, these feelings can intensify and become more severe.
Post-partum depression is characterized by feelings of depression, a loss of interest, disrupted eating and sleeping habits, irritability, and isolation. Post-partum depression can begin during the first few weeks following childbirth, but may not arise until several months later. New mothers suffering with post-partum depression may be unaware of it, merely assuming that what they are feeling is normal.
It is important to identify the early warning signs of post-partum depression, as it is treatable and can be successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy. Five early warning signs of post-partum depression can include:
1)”Baby blues” persist longer than 2 weeks: If a new mother continues to experience mood changes, feelings of hopelessness, and frequent bouts of tearfulness two weeks after giving birth, it may be indicative of something more significant than just the “baby blues.” Symptoms that intensify and grow more frequent or severe in the weeks following childbirth without alleviating or resolving can point to post-partum depression.
2) Intensifying symptoms of sadness, self-doubt, and guilt: If feelings of sadness and guilt intensify and become more severe, it may be an early sign of post-partum depression. A new mother may feel unhappy about being a parent, may doubt her mothering abilities, or may even berate herself for her perceived ineptitude and lack of maternal skills. Additionally, if a new mother has experienced other simultaneous stressful events, such as a death, a move, or a strained relationship, it can worsen symptoms and even trigger post-partum depression.
3) Low motivation and loss of interest: If a new mother loses motivation to care for herself or her baby, it could be early signs of post-partum depression. A new mother may have difficulty getting out of bed and may be unmotivated to eat or take a shower, in addition to being unmotivated to feed, change, or diaper her newborn. Additionally, if a new mother shows a lack of interest in her child, doesn’t care or take part in decisions, or loses interest in activities that were once enjoyable, it can also be indicative of a more serious problem.
4) Disrupted sleeping and eating patterns: Disrupted sleeping habits are almost guaranteed with a brand new baby. However, if a new mother cannot sleep when given the opportunity, or if she is sleeping excessively, it can point to something more significant than the normal, expected sleep disruptions.
5) Withdrawal and isolation: If a new mother finds herself withdrawing from her newborn, removing herself from relationships, and isolating from friends, it can be an early sign of post partum depression. A new mother may purposely withdraw herself from her newborn’s care and spend increasing amounts of time by herself. A new mother may also isolate herself and from any support being offered by family, friends, and loved ones.
Strong emotions that rapidly change from one moment to the next are expected from new mothers. However, it is important to ensure that these emotions are not indicative of a larger problem. Being vigilant to the early warning signs of post-partum depression can help a new mother, especially when she herself may be unaware.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.