Motherhood is the most amazing experience a woman can have, changing our lives forever as we sacrifice everything to care for these defenseless little human beings. We give up sleep, food, timely bathroom breaks, and deal with the daily stressors all this change can create in our relationships. And some degree of sadness, or “baby blues” is common- up to 80% of women experience this after having a child! But when is it more than that?
There are a few things we look at when trying to decide between regular post-baby sadness and true depression. The main factor is time- baby blues typically last 10 days or less while depression is 2 weeks or more, and while some of the symptoms are similar- difficulty sleeping, low appetite, low energy levels, trouble with concentrating, excessively guilty feelings (i.e. I am a horrible mother because she sat in that wet diaper for 20 minutes while I ate!), they are usually less severe than those associated with postpartum depression.
Another thing up to 60% of women with major postpartum depression can experience that women with baby blues do not is thoughts of harming their child. This is a terrifying thing for a new mom, and tends to be very intrusive for these women- these are not typically daydream type thoughts, but more like those horrible negative feelings that worm their way into your head that you don’t want to have. This can be really distressing and cause the mom to distance herself from her baby, which is really unhealthy for both mother and child during this important bonding time. Hand in hand with those feelings can be suicidal thoughts, also absent in baby blues. Suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death and something that can be a red flag that you’re dealing with something more than blues.
Depression is something I see on a daily basis, and it’s really unfortunate that it still has so much stigma associated with it. It is a disease, just like diabetes or high blood pressure, but a lot of times people think they should be able to “will” themselves out of it. Although there are really effective non-medicinal ways to help treat depression, such as counseling and exercise, for severe depression, those things aren’t always going to be quite enough. Postpartum depression can occur anywhere in the first year after having your baby and should not be something you feel embarrassed about talking to your doctor about. It’s been shown to have a big impact on your child’s social and emotional development if untreated as well, so please, talk to your doctor about it – I promise we will listen!