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Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Bringing a child into the world is simultaneously exciting and terrifying, joyful, and scary. In addition to all the emotions surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, your body goes through strenuous and sometimes overwhelming hormonal shifts. The combination of all these things, plus any external circumstances you might be encountering such as general life stress or a traumatic delivery, can sometimes result in unexpected postpartum depression and anxiety.

What Are Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Most new moms struggle with mood swings the first two weeks after giving birth due to postpartum hormonal shifts. However, some new moms struggle with mood swings and depression that lingers on past those initial two weeks. This can be very disconcerting as you try to adjust to newborn life and bond with your baby. It can sometimes be challenging to identify the symptoms because they can appear before delivery or even a few months post-birth.

Here are some signs that you might be struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety:

  • Depressed mood and/or severe mood swings

  • Difficulty bonding with your baby

  • Isolating yourself from others

  • Significant changes in sleep and/or eating habits

  • Loss of pleasure in things you previously enjoyed

  • Severe irritability and anger

  • Fears of worthlessness, inadequacy, shame, and/or guilt

  • Heightened anxiety that may be accompanied by panic attacks

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

  • Thoughts of suicide or death

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to know that it is not your fault and that you are not failing as a mother. Postpartum depression and anxiety are not character flaws, and you deserve care, compassion, and support as you navigate the changes that your body and life are going through. It is also, unfortunately, not uncommon, with 10-15% of new moms being diagnosed with postpartum depression.

Fathers can also experience the same symptoms of postpartum depression, especially if they have a history of struggling with depression. If you notice that your partner seems to be struggling with symptoms postpartum, don’t be afraid to talk to them and help them get the care they need.

A small number of women might also experience postpartum psychosis. The symptoms of postpartum psychosis can look very similar to depression and anxiety, but they are accompanied by hallucinations and/or paranoia. If this is you or someone you love, it is important to seek medical care immediately.

When to Get Care

With everything that goes on during the newborn stage, it can be hard to know when it is time to get some additional care. Calling your OB-GYN or primary care physician is always a good first step, and here are some signs that it would be good to check in with your doctor.

  • Symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks

  • You are unable to complete everyday tasks and/or care for your baby

  • Symptoms feel like they are getting worse, not better

  • Include any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

If at any point you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, immediately seek help from your partner or loved ones in taking care of your baby. Call 911 or your local emergency assistance number to get help.

Also, consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:

  • Seek help from a healthcare provider.

  • Contact a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call, or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.

  • Contact a pastor, spiritual mentor, or someone else in your faith community.

Who is at Risk

Postpartum depression and anxiety can impact everyone, regardless of age, marital status, socioeconomic status, or race. However, there are a few identified risk factors.

  • Prenatal depression and anxiety during pregnancy

  • History of depression and anxiety

  • Outside life stressors

  • Little social support

  • Poor marital quality

  • Low self-esteem

  • Stress-related to obtaining or affording childcare

  • Difficult infant temperament

  • Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

Having one or more of these factors present does not indicate that postpartum depression and anxiety is a foregone conclusion. However, knowing them can assist you in identifying symptoms and seeking care earlier.

While a lot of the above risk factors are out of one’s control, caring for your mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health before birth seems to be a powerful preventative tool. Connecting with a religious community, attending individual or marital counseling, and checking in with friends and family could provide some much-needed support during those early months of your new child’s life.

What Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Treatment Looks Like

If you are struggling with postpartum depression, your physician might want you to take an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. These medications can help balance the chemicals that are out of balance post-birth and can bring a lot of relief. Most typically, a doctor will prescribe an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), such as Zoloft, Prozac, or Lexapro. If prescribed, it is important to talk to your doctor about any potential side effects or impacts for your baby if you are breastfeeding. Most SSRIs are safe for breastfeeding, but specific questions or concerns should be addressed by your prescribing medical provider. There can be a stigma surrounding taking medication. However, there is no shame in needing medical care. Medication is simply a tool that can be used to help you feel better and get you to feel like yourself again.

Therapy can also be an important component of navigating postpartum depression and anxiety. Most importantly, you do not have to suffer alone, and a therapist is a compassionate presence to walk through this challenging time with you. Therapy is a place where you can process your experience without judgment and gain tools to help you cope with the symptoms you are experiencing. Becoming a new mother is a challenging experience in part because you must give so much of yourself to care for a new life. You deserve to have the time when someone is solely focused on providing you care too.

Ways to Cope with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

In addition to speaking with your doctor or therapist, some things can help relieve some of the anxious feelings you are dealing with. Here are some suggestions:

  • Maintain a healthy diet. If needed, consult with your doctor or a nutritionist about changing dietary needs for breastfeeding and postpartum changes

  • Once cleared to exercise, incorporate movement that feels good for your body

  • Rest when needed

  • Spend time with family and friends. Do not isolate yourself.

  • Incorporate spiritual practices that remind you God is with you

  • Practice speaking kindly to yourself

  • Join a support group for new moms

  • Ask for help when you need it

  • Do at least one activity a week that you enjoy, like reading or time with a friend. You deserve to feel like yourself.

  • Have realistic expectations for yourself. Being a new mom is hard. There will be both good and bad days.

A note of hope: 95% of new mothers feel relief from their depression and anxiety within a few months of receiving care. You are not stuck here and never alone. Postpartum depression and anxiety are not the end of the story for you or your baby.

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