Surviving the blues
Being pregnant is exciting and fun, and the prospect of being a parent is both daunting and wonderful! Thoughts of your new bundle of joy and the future with your little one fill your mind.
Some new moms picture themselves in cute nursing clothes, with a trendy baby stroller and a smiling new baby sleeping blissfully while they go for regular strolls, sipping a Starbucks latte. Others are perfectly happy at home in their PJs and sweatpants with a cuddly swaddled baby in arm. Whether you are out and about from day 1 or comfy at home with your little one, anything goes! Most moms look forward to this initial bonding period with their new baby!
However, we rarely speak about the struggles that new moms face in those initial weeks. Sleep deprivation, recovery from delivery, and learning how to feed and take care of a newborn are not easy things to do and can cause anxiety and stress in a lot of new mothers. These emotions often result in postpartum “blues” or, in more severe cases, postpartum depression.
The first few weeks and months after delivery are not all happy coos and sound sleeping babies — for any new mother! There’s a big learning curve for both new baby and mom as the baby gets used to its new world and mom figures out how to feed, change, and take care of this new human being. These feelings are very normal, so don’t feel bad for having weepy or sad emotions or mood changes, which are often triggered by hormonal changes after birth. Societal pressures often lead women to feel that they are expected to be happy, blissful, and perfect after birth, and many women who have the blues hide their feelings due to guilt and shame! There is absolutely no need to be perfect, and every mom needs to find the right path for themselves to nurture their little one and get past those initial weeks.
What are the baby blues?
Whether it’s just simple postpartum blues or something more, here is some valuable information for any new moms about the feelings they might experience after delivery.
Postpartum blues, or the baby blues, affect 50 to 80% of new moms. The National Institute of Mental Health defines the baby blues as “feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue that many women experience after having a baby”. Unlike postpartum depression, which usually requires treatment, symptoms of the baby blues usually last a week or two and go away on their own.
During pregnancy and particularly just before delivery, levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones are extremely high, and these levels drop precipitously after birth and delivery of the placenta. Estrogen and progesterone are “happy hormones” and are often associated with feelings of well being. After delivery, when levels drop, it is not uncommon to feel low and sad, on top of feelings of fatigue from giving birth! Other factors that could contribute to these feelings are a traumatic birth, a cesarean section or prolonged labor, difficulty breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, and a personal or family history of depression or baby blues. Women who have less social and at-home support are at an increased risk of the blues.
It is important that women recognize signs of the baby blues so that they are able to understand and deal with these feelings appropriately and to know when something more serious might be going on:
- You feel weepy, sad, anxious, irritable, and emotional, and you cry easily.
- You feel moody, cranky, and overwhelmed and feel that you are not taking good care of the baby.
- Your symptoms peak at around five days post-delivery and last about two weeks after giving birth.
- The symptoms last about two weeks.
How to deal with the blues
Postpartum blues generally disappear on their own, without specific treatment. But to feel better in those initial weeks, here are some tips:
- Get as much sleep as possible. The age-old advice “Sleep when the baby does” has a lot of truth to it!
- Ask friends and family for help. Give them specific tasks to help you out. Rely on your support system.
- Take time for yourself. Ask someone you trust to watch the baby, even if just for 20 minutes, so you can run out to grab some fresh air or a coffee or to work out!
- Try to connect with other new moms. These women are going through the same thing as you and can share experiences and give support. Most areas have new mom groups that are easy to join.
Is it just the baby blues or something more?
While the blues occur in a majority of new moms, postpartum depression is present in only about 10 to 20% of mothers. Nevertheless, it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms and to treat it appropriately.
- If symptoms are more intense or the blues last more than a few weeks, then it’s possible that something more is going on.
- In addition to feelings of anxiety, sadness, and crying easily, moms with postpartum depression feel guilt and often lack interest in the baby or are overly worried about the baby.
- Often, their sleep and eating habits are severely disrupted, and they have feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness and occasionally have thoughts of harming themselves or the baby.
If any of these symptoms are present in you or in a mom who you know, you or they should see a physician very soon to obtain the appropriate treatment. Counselling or therapy from a psychiatrist or psychologist and/or medication might be required.
Having a baby is wonderful, but the initial period can be tricky! It is important to recognize symptoms of the blues and postpartum depression. Know what feelings are normal, and make sure to take care of yourself, both mind and body, so that you can care for your beautiful new baby!