Mixed Emotions After the Birth of a Baby: “Baby Blues” or Postpartum Depression?

Author: Anne Lupus, Director, Women, Infant, and Children’s Services, MarinHealth Medical Center, and Katharine Hatch, PhD & Gina Borelli Moore, MFT, Pathways Facilitators

It’s probably safe to say that having a baby, especially if it’s your first, changes everything.

During the period after birth, new parents experience not only changes in daily routines such as eating and sleeping, but changes to the roles, responsibilities and expectations that were part of life before the new baby.

The birth of a baby often brings emotions such as joy, wonderment, and excitement. Other feelings surface as well. Instead of feeling lighthearted and carefree, you may feel weighed down by the responsibility you now have for another human being, especially one as vulnerable as a new baby.

After giving birth, 80% of women respond to often sudden hormone changes with mood swings, feelings of sadness, irritability, and anxiety? Often called the “baby blues,” the occurrence of these feelings is quite common, usually peaking five days postpartum and resolving two weeks postpartum.

Other contributing factors may include a personal or family history of mood or anxiety disorders; a feeling of being socially isolated; lack of sleep; stress from navigating breastfeeding or other feeding challenges; healing emotionally or physically from a difficult or traumatic birth experience; or even caring for a colicky baby who won’t stop crying.

If these feelings of sadness, low mood, or intense worry and anxiety last more than two or three weeks, the cause could be postpartum depression or anxiety. Data shows that 15-20% of women will suffer from depression or anxiety while pregnant and approximately 20% of women experience postpartum depression or anxiety. About 10% of men experience depression or other mood or anxiety problems in the year after their baby’s birth, as well.

If a woman is still experiencing the symptoms of a mood or anxiety disorder two to three months after birth, it should no longer be called the “baby blues,” but rather postpartum depression or anxiety.

Symptoms differ for everyone but typically include agitation, irritability, a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities, trouble concentrating or making decisions, experiencing a loss of appetite, crying frequently and reporting more sad days than good days. The new mother might experience feelings of shame, helplessness and even hopelessness, have difficulty bonding with the baby, or start withdrawing from family and friends.

A good place to start if a woman or her family becomes concerned about these symptoms is to connect with the new baby’s pediatrician or the woman’s OB. They are familiar with signs of postpartum depression or anxiety and can recommend treatment options and available resources.

Depression or anxiety in pregnancy or postpartum is treatable, no matter how severe the symptoms. Women need to know that they are not alone, they are not to blame, and they can recover with a plan of self-care, healthcare, and support. Individual therapy, and sometimes a medication consultation, may be needed and appropriate, especially if the symptoms have continued past the “baby blues” stage of two to three weeks.

Postpartum support groups also can be extremely beneficial to women experiencing postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, as they break isolation, allow support from peers, and provide accurate information.

Fortunately, here in Marin, women experiencing postpartum challenges in the early post-birth stage or at any time in the year after having a baby can find tools and support in Pathways: A Support Group for Postpartum Moms. Pathways, offered in conjunction with Women’s Care at MarinHealth Medical Center, is a six-week support group series led by a licensed therapist specializing in perinatal postpartum emotional health. A new Pathways series starts every two months.

Topics include how to handle changes in identity; mood issues such as worry, irritability, anxiety and other emotional challenges; and changes in relationships with partners or spouses. The group also talks about developing healthy expectations as well as how to develop self-care tools and work through depression or anxiety issues.

Women need not have delivered at MarinHealth Medical Center to be in the group. Moms can bring their pre-crawling babies, and are welcome to feed, change, and otherwise tend to their babies during the group.

No formal physician referral is needed. Participants can self-refer or be referred by family member, friend, or anyone else.

For Support Group & Registration Information, Visit:

https://www.mymarinhealth.org/pathways

For Additional Information, E-mail Pathways Facilitators: