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What is Postpartum Depression?

What every mother and loved one should know about the risks and recovery for postnatal mood disorders

It’s normal to have mood swings and feel abnormally weepy or emotional after having a baby. The hormonal fluctuations alone wreak havoc on emotions. Add to that the stress, responsibility, and sleepless nights that come with new motherhood and it’s no wonder 80% of moms experience the baby blues after giving birth.

However, if those feelings last longer than a couple weeks, interfere with day-to-day life, or are getting worse instead of better, chances are it’s something more.

Symptoms of Postnatal Mood Disorder

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a postnatal mood disorder. It often includes symptoms such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Significant change in appetite
  • Excessive worrying
  • Feelings of incompetence
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety

It differs from baby blues because the symptoms are typically more severe and do not subside after 1-2 weeks.

“Baby blues” are often more mild and subside after 1-2 weeks. Postpartum depression can occur any time from childbirth through a year post-birth and can last up to 1 year or longer without treatment”

Postpartum depression affects as many as 1 in 5 new mothers, but at least 66% of cases go undiagnosed. This is often because of a lack of communication between the patient and healthcare provider, misunderstanding the difference between “baby blues” and postpartum depression, and a stigma associated with postpartum depression symptoms.

“Postpartum depression affects as many as 1 in 5 new mothers”

“Moms often feel the need to put on a good face,” says Lyndsey Proctor, LCSW and Executive Director at Serenity Recovery & Wellness in Riverton, Utah. “Most of us have this feeling that new motherhood is precious and beautiful, so if we struggle or have negative feelings then we feel like we must be doing something wrong. But that’s just not the case. It doesn’t have anything to do with what a mom is or isn’t doing or how she feels about being a mother. There are some risk factors that increase the risk of postpartum depression, but postnatal mood disorders really can affect any new mother.”

Postpartum depression does not discriminate. It can affect women regardless of cultural background, socioeconomic status, and marital status. It can occur whether the pregnancy was planned or unplanned. It can affect a mother who has already had multiple births without experiencing PPD, and can happen regardless of whether a woman has a history of depression. It is not a sign of weakness or a “not loving the baby enough.” It is simply a mood disorder and is easily treatable in most cases.

What Does Treatment for Postpartum Depression Look Like?

The success rate for treating postpartum depression is over 80% and usually includes a combination of talk or group therapy, self-care, and medication. This combination of treatment can help a mother start feeling ‘herself’ again in a matter of weeks, where lack of treatment can mean the mother is experiencing symptoms for up to a year or even longer.

Some moms have an impulsive negative reaction to the idea of medication, especially if they are breastfeeding, and mothers should always speak with their healthcare provider if they’re concerned. There’s a lot of evidence that these medications don’t affect the child in the short- or long-term, and a healthcare provider can help a new mother navigate her concerns and preferences.

Why do so Many Mothers go Without Help?

60% of moms in Utah never receive treatment for postpartum depression. That’s 10% higher than the national average of 50%.

Two of the biggest factors in not receiving treatment for PPD is lack of awareness and stigma. Many new mothers—or family members of new mothers—brush depressive emotions off as “baby blues.” The mother may be afraid to admit she is feeling down, stressed, or overwhelmed, or may not want to admit the extent of her emotions.

Another factor is often price or childcare. However, many mental healthcare providers accept insurance. It’s also becoming more and more common for on-site childcare to be available during treatment.

It’s important for a new mother to be reminded that postpartum depression isn’t in any way her fault. Opening up about her feelings, finding a support network, and taking steps for recovery are some of the biggest blessings she can offer her newborn. These steps her recover so she can be the mother she truly wants to be.

Take a S.T.A.N.D. to End the Stigma

There’s no determinate cause for postpartum depression. It can affect women from any background, race, socioeconomic class, or marital status. It can also affect mothers who have given birth multiple times without PPD or who have never had a history of depression.

Help to end the stigma of postpartum and to help new mothers receive help by increasing awareness and offering support. If you know a mother struggling with postpartum depression, take a S.T.A.N.D.

S – Support the mother however you can. Offer childcare, to cook or clean, to feed the baby while the mother naps, or simply to listen to her when she wants to talk.

T – Talk about it openly. One of the most destructive forces in postpartum depression is trying to suppress emotions. Create a safe space where the mother can open up about her feelings, and talk openly about recovery options.

A – Be Aware of the statistics and treatment options, and help other people become aware, too. Postpartum depression is common and is usually easy-to-treat. No mother should feel like she’s alone in her struggle.

N – Be Nonjudgmental. Postpartum depression is common, and being a new mother is difficult. The best thing we can do for each other is to be supportive and loving, and to never make a new mother (or any mother, for that matter) feel small in her struggle.

D – Don’t Blame. To end the stigma, we have to deny any preconceived notions that postpartum depression is in any way a mother’s fault. Postpartum Depression is not a consequence of something done wrong; it’s simply something that happens.

“Postpartum Depression” is not a dirty word. It’s not something to be whispered about behind closed doors or something to be deeply ashamed of. It’s not a sign of failure or weakness. It’s not a melodramatic reaction to the stress of motherhood, and it’s certainly not “made up.” Postpartum depression doesn’t affect only those with a “weak disposition,” “bad moms,” or those who have a history of depression. And postpartum depression is no one’s fault.

By increasing awareness and support, we can help new mothers get “back to themselves” more quickly and help bring happiness and delight back to the lives of new mothers who are struggling.