While you were pregnant you may have read countless books and blogs about the pure bliss, joy, and love you will feel for your newborn baby. You prepared their nursery, washed and put away all their tiny baby clothes, and anxiously waited for the arrival of your little one. Then, your baby’s birthing day arrived, and a few days later you brought your baby home. You expected to have this intense feeling of love, joy, attachment, and never wanting to be away from your baby. I mean that’s what the movies and tv shows show and what all the books you read told you to expect…so why don’t you feel that way? Why do you feel like you are not connected to your baby? Could it be postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety? What is the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety? How do you know if your emotions and feelings are outside of the scope of “normal” for postpartum?
First, we need to share what the baby blues is and what it may look like.
Baby Blues can be an emotional roller coaster you go on usually about the time you get home from the hospital (2-3 days after giving birth). You may feel rage, sadness, joy, anxiety, and even maybe all of these feelings in just a few short hours of each other. You may begin to cry for no reason at all or for a reason that doesn’t make sense to either you or your partner — like you forgot to bring a towel into the bathroom with you when you went to take a shower. This is all normal as your hormones are trying to regulate and they are taking you on quite an emotional journey.
These emotions and feelings usually dissipate within two weeks of giving birth and sometimes even within just a few days. You can prepare for a smoother transition from pregnancy to postpartum by opting to have your placenta encapsulated. Mothers who have chosen to have their placenta encapsulated often report a decrease in the hormonal roller coaster. You may also choose to have postpartum help like a professional postpartum doula which is also known to decrease the likelihood of baby blues and postpartum depression and anxiety. If you are still feeling emotional after two to three weeks after your baby was born, you may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety vs baby blues.
Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are different and mothers can be dealing with just one or both at the same time. Joy, right?
Postpartum depression can present itself in many different ways. You may have more mild symptoms or more extreme symptoms. Some symptoms include: not wanting to be near your child and wanting to be left alone, thinking you are not a good mother for your child, you may stop eating or eat non stop, you may cry or be deeply sad all the time, you may try to “escape” your daily life and stay away from home as much as possible, you can be restless and unable to sleep… even when your baby is fast asleep or you sleep all the time, feelings of loneliness or hopelessness that you will never feel normal again, and even feeling that you want to hurt your self or your baby. If you have any of these symptoms we encourage you to call your medical provider.
What causes Postpartum Depression?
“Postpartum depression can be caused by a combination of factors. These factors include the following:
Changes in hormone levels—Levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease sharply in the hours after childbirth. These changes may trigger depression in the same way that smaller changes in hormone levels trigger mood swings and tension before menstrual periods.
History of depression—Women who have had depression at any time—before, during, or after pregnancy—or who currently are being treated for depression have an increased risk of developing postpartum depression.
Emotional factors—Feelings of doubt about pregnancy are common. If the pregnancy is not planned or is not wanted, this can affect the way a woman feels about her pregnancy and her [baby]. Even when a pregnancy is planned, it can take a long time to adjust to the idea of having a new baby. Parents of babies who are sick or who need to stay in the hospital may feel sad, angry, or guilty. These emotions can affect a woman’s self-esteem and how she deals with stress.
Fatigue—Many women feel very tired after giving birth. It can take weeks for a woman to regain her normal strength and energy. For women who have had their babies by cesarean birth, it may take even longer.
Lifestyle factors—Lack of support from others and stressful life events, such as a recent death of a loved one, a family illness, or moving to a new city, can greatly increase the risk of postpartum depression.”
In one study that looked at 4,451 women who had recently given birth, 18 percent self-reported symptoms related to anxiety. (That’s huge — and a significant reminder that you’re not alone in this.) Of those, 35 percent also had symptoms of postpartum depression
Now that we have a better understanding of what postpartum depression looks like, let’s take a look at postpartum anxiety.
When you have a newborn it is quite common to have some worries. Are they getting enough to eat? Did I use the swaddle correctly? Am I doing a good job at being this child’s mother?
You will worry every once in a while about your baby or if you are doing the right thing. It’s ingrained in parents to want to make sure their child is doing well and that they are doing well by their child. However, when that every once in a while worry turns into constant worrying about almost all the things or even obsessive over one thing, then it’s time to seek help from your medical provider and support family, friends, and postpartum doula.
Postpartum anxiety (PPA) can show itself in many ways but some of the most common are: worrying about your baby nonstop, never trusting your partner to hold the baby, to feed or change the baby, not allowing people to visit your baby because you fear they will get an illness and die (NOW, with COVID-19, this one gets a little tricky but in non-pandemic times this would be considered out of the scope of normal), you may also have constant dread that something terrible is going to happen if you let your child out of your sight.
PPA can also mean you constantly worry about your house – you NEED those dishes done, the laundry done, the floor vacuumed, mopped, sheets changed every day, etc. You don’t travel outside of the home because you feel only safe with your baby at your home. Your heart can race and your breathing may increase. Panic may come and go or you may live in a constant heightened degree of what feels like an adrenaline rush.
Some moms with PPA may also experience Postpartum rage, where they get furiously angry at everyone including their baby, partner, and older children. The anger can come and go, spiking when the anxiety has heightened during the day or she may live in a constant state of panic, worry, and rage. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is time to have honest chat with your medical provider. They truly want you to talk to them. Your provider can’t help you if you don’t share with them what is going on in your life. You don’t have to live with these symptoms and your provider will help you find the correct form of healing and therapy so you can be back to feeling like yourself.
What causes Postpartum Anxiety?
“Why some women get postpartum anxiety disorder and others don’t is a bit of a mystery, given that the hormone fluctuations are universal. If you had anxiety before your pregnancy — or if you have family members with it — you’re certainly more at risk. The same goes for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Other factors that can up your risk include: history of an eating disorder, previous pregnancy loss or death of an infant, history of more intense mood-related symptoms with your period.
One study found that women with previous miscarriage or stillbirth were more likely to have postpartum anxiety.
There is a stigma in our culture that mental illnesses are a sign of weakness, it’s made up, or something that if we try hard enough we can just “get over”. That could not be farther from the truth. Seeking help is strength, taking medications (if you need them) is strength, going and talking with a professional is strength. We would never shame a cancer patient from seeking help to heal their body, we would never shame a person with diabetes for taking insulin to keep them alive and on and on. Mental health is also an illness, a chemical imbalance, that can be fixed.
Because of the social stigma around mental illnesses, moms and dads alike can sometimes feel shame for their feelings and may be afraid to tell their provider, family, and/or friends that they are not feeling well and not bonding with their baby like they thought they would.
Both owners of Omaha Birth & Babies experienced severe postpartum depression and we both waited months and months to tell someone what we were feeling. When we finally opened up about what was going on, help came quickly.
Our advice, try to nip those concerns of what others might think in the bud as quickly as possible so you can get the help and support you deserve. It will get better and the sooner you know to seek help the quicker your healing process will begin.
Trust us, from two women who are over the moons in love with our daughters, we did not start this way. It was a very sad and rocky road. You would never know now that neither of us wanted hardly anything to do with our daughters (now 12 and 5). We each have wonderful and deep relationships with our children despite that rocky start. In sharing a glimpse into our postpartum experience we hope you can find solace in that this feeling is temporary, you are not alone and it can be healed.
Again, if you or your partner (yes, dads can experience postpartum depression or anxiety too) have any of the above symptoms, reach out to your OBGYN, midwife or family doctor. You can also reach out to Omaha Birth & Babies for in-home daytime or overnight support while your mind and body begin to heal. A postpartum doula is specially trained to help with mother-baby bonding, support mothers and fathers with PPD or PPA, infant care, keeping the home tidy, and much more. We would be beyond honored to support your family.