Get a postpartum reality check
All new moms are happy, smiling and perfect, right? Not so fast.
Amr Madkour, M.D., says, "We have such a strong association of these things as happy and joyful events that women may feel guilty about their depressed mood. Part of the solution is fostering a trusting relationship between the expectant mother and her doctor that encourages open communication."
Remember you're not alone
I had baby blues after my first baby, yet didn't realize I was at risk for the postpartum depression (PPD) I had after my second baby was born. My advice? Give yourself a break. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed to talk to your doctor or midwife, and be honest with your partner about how you're feeling. Chances are he or she may notice something's not quite right before you do.
Other allParenting moms have been there, too:
Maureen Wallace says, "No matter how ridiculous you think it may sound, share your emotions and feelings with your doctor as soon as possible, even while still in the hospital. Looking back, I realize I was developing depressive feelings throughout my pregnancy, but at the time, I thought it was just a natural reaction to learning our unborn son had Down syndrome. Then, when he was born at 33 weeks, I thought my strong emotions and regular crying were natural reactions to what we were going through: a baby in the NICU and then a preemie coming home with a heart monitor."
Maria Mora had postpartum anxiety and encourages moms to seek help, a choice she didn't make after her first child was born. She says, "I often think back to how miserable and anxious I was. It's painful to think that I could have gotten help instead of telling myself it wasn't a big deal as long as I wasn't suicidal or wasn't going to hurt my son."
Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., explains, "There are some factors which statistically do put a woman at higher risk. For instance, if she's depressed during pregnancy and hasn't been treated, if she has a personal or family history with depression (especially a past PPD) poor social support (especially poor partner support), isolation, past trauma and major stressors."
Be sure to seek help
Bennett experienced life-threatening postpartum depression after giving birth to both of her children in the 1980s, yet couldn't find support. "At that time, no professional in my life screened pregnant women or had any helpful information on the subject of postpartum depression," she explains. "Nobody mentioned the topic at all. Had I been screened, it would have been very obvious that I was high risk."
Today, it's pretty standard for moms to see their OB six weeks after being discharged from the hospital. If you're at risk for postpartum mood disorders, you may not want to wait that long.
"Women at high risk should also consider closer follow up postpartum — weekly or bi-weekly, to evaluate for any symptoms of PPD," Madkour explains. "They should also ask their physicians about counselors they may recommend who are familiar with the challenges that accompany new motherhood, and about medical therapies safe during breastfeeding if necessary."
Wallace says, "PPD doesn't mean you have to have horrible thoughts. PPD can mean you just feel excessively sad. If you had high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you would treat it. PPD should be considered similar... you're not alone and you don't have to figure it out alone."
The type of treatment will depend on your unique circumstances. Bennett explains, "There is no cookie-cutter approach to treating PPD. Each woman needs a plan constructed individually, just for her. The great news is that PPD is completely treatable, and no one should settle for less than that."