Help! I just had a baby and I’m so overwhelmed.
Understanding the “baby blues,” postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety—and when to get help.
Having a baby, whether it’s your first or your fifth, is a huge life change. And huge life changes, even good ones, can be emotionally disruptive. Park Nicollet psychologist Gabrielle Mauren, PhD, LP, explains:
I’m sure that you’re brimming with pride for your new baby. But I would also guess that you might be experiencing some less-than-happy feelings.
It’s important to know that 70-80% of women experience the baby blues. So if you’re feeling down, you are not alone. But for some women, the problem becomes bigger than simply feeling sad every now and then. And when postpartum depression or anxiety happens, it’s important to get help.
Let’s back up a bit:
What are the baby blues?
The baby blues refers to the emotional ups and downs that many women experience after the birth of a child. The baby blues:
- Occur in the first 2 weeks after the baby is born
- Can produce unexpected crying spells or other spikes of emotion
- Do not inhibit your ability to function normally and you still feel like yourself most of the time
The baby blues are the result of a few things. Yes, your hormones are readjusting, but you’re also settling into life with a new baby. Feeling sad or overwhelmed for 5-10 minutes at a time is normal and expected. But if those feelings are happening most of the time or for an extended period of time, you may be experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.
What is postpartum depression? What is postpartum anxiety?
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects women after the birth of a child. 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression shares many symptoms with regular depression, such as:
- Lasting for more than 2 weeks at a time.
- Interfering with your daily life: you may sleep too much or too little, eat too much or too little, or feel unable to concentrate.
- Feeling sad most of the day, or experiencing feelings of worthlessness, guilt or hopelessness.
- Not feeling like yourself and finding that things that used to bring you joy no longer do.
For many women, postpartum depression also includes some anxiety. Women with postpartum anxiety often feel like they’re not doing a good enough job at being a mom. But usually it’s just the opposite! They’re so focused on being a mom that there is hardly any room left for other things, like themselves.
Postpartum anxiety can look like:
- Obsessive thoughts or worry about your baby. For example, constantly checking that your baby is still breathing as he sleeps.
- Your mind going a mile a minute. This is often centered on making sure you’re doing everything perfectly for your baby.
- May include panic attacks.
What should I do if I think I have postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety?
Motherhood doesn’t have to feel completely overwhelming. And I want you to know you’re not a bad mom if you’re feeling that way! Talk about how you’re feeling with your OB-GYN or midwife. Or, even with your child’s pediatrician. Some clinics, like ours, automatically give every new mom a short questionnaire to fill out to screen for postpartum depression and anxiety. And you can also ask for one at any time! Here’s the screening that the doctors I work with use.
The important thing is to let a doctor know about any symptoms you may be experiencing. If needed, your doctor will put you in touch with a mental health professional. Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are both treated with either therapy or medication or both.
The good news is, the treatment works and it works fast! We get most moms back to feeling like themselves in about six weeks. That means that you are able to handle your new role and feel like your normal self again. And it means your baby is back to having his mom at her best self!
More about Gabrielle Mauren, PhD, LP
Dr. Mauren is a psychologist and Clinical Manager for the adult psychotherapy practice at Park Nicollet. And she coordinates Park Nicollet’s Women’s Reproductive Mental Health Program. In this role, she and her fellow clinicians help new moms tackle the emotions that come up after birth. She also specializes in mental health concerns related to pregnancy, fertility issues and miscarriage or infant loss. Dr. Mauren works with patients from multicultural backgrounds. “It’s important for me to understand each patient’s worldview in order to develop a treatment plan that works for her,” she says.