Expectant parents experience many emotions while they await the arrival of their new bundle of joy. It’s exciting to wonder what the baby will look like, whose eyes he will have, what color hair, etc. However, once they bring their baby home, transitioning into their new life is not always easy.
During the first two weeks at home with a new baby, you and even your partner can feel safe or have emotions that go from feeling happy to sad for no apparent reason. This is completely normal as you learn to adjust to your new child. But what happens if these feelings continue past two weeks or a month after bringing your baby home?
What’s Normal, What’s Not
Baby blues typically occurs four to five days after giving birth, and then resolves by day 14. Approximately 80 percent of all women have some degree of baby blues. Symptoms of baby blues include weepiness for no apparent reason, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, fatigue and poor concentration.
Researchers are unsure of the exact cause, though baby blues can be related to hormonal changes after giving birth. If you are struggling with baby blues, here’s how to feel better: Talk to someone you trust about your feelings, maintain a well-balanced diet, keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings, ask for help with daily chores or with other kids at home, and try to take time for yourself each day.
How do you know if you have baby blues or serious postpartum depression (PPD)? The main difference between the two is timing. Unlike baby blues that disappears two weeks after giving birth, PPD typically starts anywhere from two weeks postpartum to 15 months postpartum. Any woman having feelings of sadness, hopelessness, self-harm, harm to her baby or abnormal moodiness should be tested for PPD.
PPD is not your fault, nor is it a sign of weakness or that you are not going to be a good mother. PPD is caused by many factors, including the sudden drop of progesterone and estrogen after giving birth, which leads to chemical changes in the brain that can trigger mood swings. The lack of adequate sleep does not allow your body time to heal after giving birth and may contribute to PPD as well.
Risk Factors for PPD
Some women are more at risk of developing PPD than others, and should be monitored closely for symptoms. Risk factors include history of PPD or other type of depression, having a family member with a history of depression, a stressful life event during or after pregnancy, a miscarriage, complications during or after delivery affecting you or your baby, an unplanned pregnancy, giving birth to multiples, a lack of strong emotional support from family and friends, a lack of financial stability and alcohol or drug problems.
PPD symptoms are very similar to those of baby blues, but remember it all depends on timing as to whether you are experiencing PPD or baby blues.
Symptoms of PPD that differ from baby blues include losing interest in daily activities that you normally would enjoy, suffering from daily aches and pains such as headaches and stomachaches, withdrawing from your family and friends, having trouble bonding or forming a relationship with your baby, consistently doubting your ability to take good care of your baby, and having thoughts of harming yourself or the baby.
PPD does not affect just you, but your entire family. If you have PPD, it can cause you to have a shorter fuse with your significant other, your other children and even friends. Having a new addition is not easy, and definitely adds more challenges when you do not feel like yourself.
Getting the Help You Need
If your family members or friends offer to help you, accept their help. Let someone stay home with your new baby while you take your older child to softball practice, or ask a girlfriend to pick up your middle-schooler from piano lessons. Lightening your load can help calm your anxiety and improve your mood.
Also, it is important to carve away some time a few nights a week to spend with your partner. This will allow time for good communication and can help both of you de-stress as well as help your partner better understand how you are feeling.
If you are struggling with PPD, it may be hard to reach out to friends or family members for fear of what they may think, but it’s important to let someone know that you are not feeling like yourself. Talk to your provider. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire that can help diagnosis PPD and determine its severity (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale). Be honest as you fill out the information, which is confidential and assists your provider in helping you.
Depending on the severity of your PPD, many types of treatment exist. For severe PPD, an antidepressant medication may be required, along with talk therapy. These medications balance the chemicals in your brain and can take up to four weeks to work, but some women begin to feel better within a few days. Note that medications for PPD are available for breastfeeding moms, too, as this is sometimes a concern.
In less severe cases, your provider may recommend talk therapy and regular check-ins to ensure that you are improving and getting the help you need. There are things you can do at home to help relieve some of the symptoms of PPD. Most of these include taking care of your basic needs. Getting an hour to yourself can make all of the difference. During that one hour, you can do what makes you feel like yourself again. It’s important to focus on rest, hygiene, exercise, time and support.
Resting is difficult to fit in, but even a ten-minute nap can help rejuvenate you. Taking a shower regularly, putting on makeup (if you normally wear it) and wearing a comfortable outfit — not pajamas — can help. Getting some fresh air and exercise by strolling outside with your baby can help energize you in the sun.
Pamper yourself by going on a lunch date with a girlfriend or buy a new postpartum outfit that makes you feel pretty. Doing so can help you feel good about yourself and help you to find your life again post-baby. However, if your symptoms persist, seek help from a provider and take care of yourself in the meantime. Taking good care of yourself is also taking care of your baby.
Katie Erdlitz, DNP, CRNP, CPNP-PC, currently works as an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama and as a PNP at a private clinic. She is an active member of NAPNAP and currently serves on the Conference Planning Committee.
Ashley Marass, DNP, CRNP, CPNP-PC, works as an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama and as a PNP in an adolescent clinic. She is an active member of NAPNAP and her areas of interest include breastfeeding/newborn care, adolescent sexual health, and concussion prevention and management.