Most pregnancies are spent imagining the joys that parenthood will bring. But what happens when the time after the birth is not what you expected? When it is full of crying, self-doubt, exhaustion, anger, fear and an overwhelming sense that something is terribly wrong? Sadly, this is the experience that many women face because postpartum depression (PPD) is the number one complication of childbirth.
Most women experience a time of ups and downs following the birth of her baby. This time period usually lasts one to two weeks and is often called the “baby blues.” This time can be blamed on the sudden change in hormones and the physical recovery of birth — along with the learning curve that a new baby inevitably brings. With support and rest these symptoms usually resolve quickly. When these feelings last longer than two weeks it is usually a sign of a larger problem.
The symptoms of postpartum depresssion can look and feel different from woman to woman. For women with a preexisting mental health condition the symptoms may be greatly exaggerated. For others, PPD can seem to come out of nowhere. Why does it happen? Postpartum depression is the result of complicated changes in hormones and brain chemistry. It is a desease, and although you cannot see or measure it like other diseases it is very real and can have very serious consequences. Just like any other disease, you cannot “will it way.” Many women with PPD lack the insight to recongize their symptoms are a part of this disease process, or if they do, are fearful to speak up because of the stigma associated with mental health issues.
There are a variety of treatment options for PPD. The first (and most important) step is to share your feelings with your doctor and people you trust. Your doctor may recommend medication, counseling, or a combination of both. A good doctor is your best advocate! If medication is prescribed it is important to remember that it takes several weeks to take effect. It is also important to not suddenly stop taking the medication.
Self-care is also a very important part of the healing proess. Seek help from others and find time to rest, eat well and exercise. You may also consider joining a moms group or attending a postpartum depression support group to get extra support and encouragement. In Yakima County any woman struggling with postpartum depression is also eligible to have a nurse or counselor visit them at home to provide education and support.
My own struggle with postpartum depression started shortly after the birth of my second child. For me, it started with nights of insomnia and an inability to quiet my brain. What followed was weeks of anxiety and panic, depression and feeling emotionally numb and disconnected from everything around me. I truly thought I had gone crazy and that there was no coming back from it. When my son was 6 weeks old I started taking antidepressant medication, and over the course of 6-8 weeks I gradually got better. Now 12 months out from that terrible experience, I feel 100 percent like myself and am able to enjoy my life and family.
My advice if you are struggling: speak up! You are not alone and don’t need to suffer in silence. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you will be well.