Healthy Living

Your Postpartum Mood: What’s Normal and When You Should See a Doctor

Nov 26 2019
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Get educated about your postpartum mood with Abigail Holbrook, D.O., a Mercy Health physician and OB/GYN.

Postpartum mood issues can be broken into three distinct areas:

  • Baby Blues
  • Depression
  • Psychosis

Baby Blues

It’s normal to experience the baby blues, which refers to a common, temporary psychological state right after childbirth. Symptoms include sudden mood swings, tearfulness as well as feeling of guilt, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, loneliness and sadness. These feelings are expected to some degree as welcoming a new baby into the world is a big life change.

“The baby blues may last only a few hours or as long as one to two weeks after delivery,” says Dr. Holbrook. “The baby blues in this sense are less severe than a postpartum depression and do not always require treatment from a health care provider.”

Having a baby can lead to anyone feeling overwhelmed, especially as you’re juggling changing sleep schedules, breastfeeding and everything else that comes with caring for an infant. Often, joining a support group for new mothers or talking with other mothers helps when you are experiencing these feelings.

Depression

The severity and length of emotions and feelings is what distinguish the baby blues from postpartum depression. The baby blues is short-lived, while postpartum depression can last for weeks at a time and affect how a mother cares for herself and her child.

“If you feel that your moods are interfering with your life and daily activities, you may be experiencing postpartum depression,” says Dr. Holbrook. “Other signs of postpartum depression include feeling disinclined to care for your baby, experiencing guilt about this or feeling resentment toward your pregnancy.”

Postpartum depression is very common. Up to 50 percent of women will experience it within the first month after giving birth.

Some cases of postpartum depression are due to an underlying illness that is exacerbated by high-stress situations. Other studies have shown a link between postpartum depression and the hormonal withdrawal that occurs following a pregnancy. Some have even suggested a potential genetic link as women with a family history of postpartum depression have an increased chance of experiencing it themselves, especially with their first delivery.

“Regardless of the reason, if you are experiencing postpartum depression, please reach out to your doctor, especially, if you experience a strong and unexpected shift in mood,” says Dr. Holbrook. “There’s no shame in postpartum depression – it’s very common – and your doctor’s office is a safe environment to talk about how you are feeling.”

Dr. Holbrook’s practice has a counselor on staff who takes care of women and children. This counselor is a psychologist who offers talk therapy and sets up patient appointments for care with other providers as well. They even screen patients for depression at every prenatal visit through the birth and beyond using a standardized questionnaire.

“I encourage you to also talk with your partner and family members for help in finding a way to carve some time for yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes,” adds Dr. Holbrook. “Finding quiet time when you are not caring completely for your newborn is important.”

Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is another potential health concern following the birth of a baby.

“If you start to consider harm to yourself, the baby and other family members, this can be a sign of postpartum psychosis, which is also characterized by a high level of confusion, delusions, hallucinations and mania,” says Dr. Holbrook.

Psychosis is a serious mental health condition that needs medical attention. Contact your doctor immediately, or even 9-1-1 if necessary.

You’re not alone

Regardless of your postpartum mood condition, it’s important for women to know they have support all around them.

“Try to remember that the months right after birth are a finite time,” says Dr. Holbrook. “Even though bringing home and caring for a baby is difficult, things will get better. As much as possible, try to reduce stress outside the home environment and find ways to get clarity and step away.”

Activities such as exercise, writing or reading for enjoyment can help. Above everything else, don’t be hard on yourself! No one is perfect, even though some might seem that way on social media. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings and ask for help.

Learn more about the maternity care services available at Mercy Health.


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