The more I have learned about postpartum depression, the more I realized how much misinformation is out there. Television, magazines, and the Internet continue to over dramatize and politicize postpartum mental disorders. Or, they are completely dismissive of new mothers truly concerned about their mental health. Right now, I’ll just take you through a comparison of two very common postpartum mental conditions. Let’s keep this simple and easy.
Postpartum depression meets all the basic criteria of clinical depression. This includes any five of the following symptoms: feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in usual activities, significant weight loss or gain, significant appetite change, sleep problems (too much or too little), loss of energy, either feeling too keyed up or too slow, feelings of self loathing and negativity, problems with concentration, decision-making, and clear thinking.
Along with those symptoms, a mom with postpartum depression may turn some of her negativity or loss of interest towards her baby. Oddly, many of the above-listed symptoms are very normal in the first several weeks following childbirth. What new mom hasn’t struggled with their sleep, had some loss of energy, and had significant weight change? The similarities can make postpartum depression somewhat tricky to diagnose.
Baby blues consist of tearfulness, some mild sadness or an overwhelmed feeling, and last just a few weeks after childbirth. A difference between baby blues and depression is that the baby blues usually starts a few days after birth, and depression may not set in until a few weeks or months later.
Certainly, depression can set in very early, but true baby blues simply don’t last that long. You know you have depression when you just can’t shake those feelings and they seem to get worse.
To add a few personal details, I didn’t notice the odd depression symptoms until about two months after giving birth. I noticed that my calendar in my mind was a big white blank wall for anything more than five minutes into the future. Also, I tried just about everything I knew how to do to feel better and more positive, and I was still tearful and so miserably hopeless inside.
I distinctly remember at some point after this had gone on and on saying to myself, “Well, this must be what motherhood is really like. Women make it look easy, but it’s mostly just really hard.” NOT true! Yes, the early months and years are challenging, but they should not be miserable. That’s a sign of depression – resigning to the idea that things just won’t get better and you are doomed to feel a heavy burden for years.
Being miserable, hopeless, no vision into the future, giving up on enjoying motherhood – this is NOT the baby blues. This is postpartum depression. It is treatable, it can be over, you do not have to feel this way your entire life. If you are not sure whether you have been experiencing the baby blues, talk to someone. You can’t ever go wrong talking to someone you trust about your feelings.
If your distress really is temporary and mild, you will still have done something good for yourself by getting your concerns off your chest. If things are getting pretty bad, you will have hopefully caught postpartum depression early and can get treatment and support.
And please, if you or a mom you know is having any scary thoughts or visions of hurting herself or her baby, this is a medical emergency. Call a doctor or 911 and get a good mental health assessment immediately. This could mean life and death for a mom and her child.
I realize I may have missed some details about postpartum depression here. Trust me, I could write a post ten times longer than this just on recognizing it! This was meant to be a broad-brush type of post to tell the difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues *without* media hype, an extreme viewpoint, misinformation, or political skew. So please add your stories, your key symptoms, your depression time frame, whatever might help another woman or family decide if the problem is baby blues or postpartum depression.
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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (November 19, 2009)
Last reviewed: 18 Nov 2009