PostPartum Depression: More Than Just the "Baby Blues"

Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a type of clinical depression which can affect both sexes after childbirth. Symptoms may include sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced desire for sex, crying episodes, anxiety, and irritability. While many women experience self-limited, mild symptoms postpartum, postpartum depression should be suspected when symptoms are severe and have lasted over two weeks.

Contributed by Dr. Beth Van Horne

Caring for an infant is exhausting work! Because of the many changes families experience after bringing home a new baby, many parents - both mothers and fathers - feel overwhelmed, tired, nervous, and confused. It is common for mothers with young infants to experience "baby blues" - they may cry more often than usual and become irritated by minor incidents. Baby blues typically lasts a few days to a few weeks and resolves on its own.

Families need to seek help, however, if mom or dad experiences multiple symptoms for longer periods of time as this could be an indication that they are experiencing a more serious condition called postpartum depression (PPD).

Postpartum depression can occur in parents of children up to one year of age and both mothers and fathers - including and foster or adoptive parents - can experience postpartum depression.

What To Look Out For

Seek help if you are experiencing several of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer:

  • You feel overwhelmed. Not like "hey, this new mom thing is hard." More like "I can’t do this and I’m never going to be able to do this."
  • You feel guilty because you believe you should be handling new motherhood better than this. You feel like your baby deserves better. You worry whether your baby can tell that you feel so bad, or that you are crying so much, or that you don’t feel the happiness or connection that you thought you would.
  • You don’t feel bonded to your baby. You’re not having that mythical mommy bliss that you see on TV or read about in magazines.
  • You can’t understand why this is happening. You are very confused and scared.
  • You feel irritated or angry. You have no patience. Everything annoys you. You feel resentment toward your baby, or your partner, or your friends who don’t have babies.
  • You feel nothing. Emptiness. You are just going through the motions.
  • You feel sad to the bottom of your heart. You can’t stop crying, even when there’s no real reason to be crying.
  • You feel hopeless, like this situation will never ever get better. You feel like a failure.
  • You can’t bring yourself to eat, or the only thing that makes you feel better is eating.
  • Your sleeping is completely messed up. You can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, or can't you sleep at any other time. Or maybe you can fall asleep, but you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep no matter how tired you are. Or maybe all you can do is sleep and you can’t seem to stay awake to get the most basic things done.
  • You can’t concentrate. You can’t focus. You can’t think of the words you want to say.  You can’t remember what you were supposed to do. You can’t make a decision. You feel like you’re in a fog.
  • You feel disconnected. You feel strangely apart from everyone for some reason, like there’s an invisible wall between you and the rest of the world.
  • You’re thinking, "Why can’t I just get over this?" You feel like you should be able to snap out of it, but you can’t.

What To Do If You Have These Symptoms

Try not to feel ashamed or guilty. You are not alone and what you are experiencing is not out of the ordinary. Many parents have these feelings and you can start to feel better, all you need to do is reach out for help. Talk to your partner, family, and friends. You don’t need to tell them everything if you don’t feel comfortable, but ask them to help with the baby a bit more (which they likely want to do anyway) to give you time to take care of yourself.

It is very important not only to ask those close to you for support, but also to talk to a professional about the various treatment options. If you have a regular physician or can see your OB/GYN, go see them. You can also talk to your child’s pediatrician at their well-child check-up, as long as you don’t wait too long. Many hospitals and birthing clinics have new mother support groups, check to see if there are any in your area that you can go to.

New Parent Checklist

When you have a new baby, caring for that infant can seem like the only thing that matters. However, one of the best ways to care for your baby is actually to care for yourself. This daily checklist by family therapist Sherry Duson will help you ensure that you are taking care of yourself as well as your baby.

  • Have I eaten enough nutritious food today?
  • Have I slept at least 5 hours, or taken a nap?
  • Have I bathed or showered today?
  • Have I exercised at least 10 minutes today?
  • Have I had at least 10 minutes of quiet time for reelection and renewal today?
  • Have I let myself laugh today?
  • Have I let others help me today?
  • Have I kissed my baby and told him/her "I love you" today?
  • Have I talked to at least one adult today about how I’m doing today (not just about the baby)?
  • Have I forgiven myself for mistakes today?

About the Expert: Dr. Beth Van Horne works for UTHealth conducting research and implementing programs to improve the lives of children and families across Texas. She is a mother of two children who remind her every day that motherhood is the most difficult, yet joyous job one can have.