Most people get pregnant for the first time with very little idea about what life with a new baby will be like. We have a vague idea that the first few weeks and months will be a bit chaotic, but not much more than that. This often leaves us feeling totally unprepared, even wondering if we are cut out to be parents. Thankfully, in recent years, there has been more media attention on postpartum life, including mood disorders like postpartum depression. This awareness helps reminds us that we are not alone in our experiences.
What is normal?
Almost all everyone who has given birth experiences some version of the postpartum blues or baby blues. Postpartum blues has been attributed to the sudden shift in hormones that happens during and immediately after birth. For most of your pregnancy, the placenta makes estrogen and progesterone, after birth that source of hormones is suddenly gone. In up to 80% of birthing persons, this results in low mood, feeling down, tearfulness or anxiety starting 2-3 days after delivery. However, this should only last a few weeks at most.
As your hormones stabilize and you get used to life with a new baby, you should notice your mood levelling out. However, remember that in the first few months of your baby’s life and any time they go through a developmental shift, their sleep will be erratic. This usually means that your sleep will also be erratic. Even the most capable of human beings won’t operate well on only a few broken hours of sleep a night. So, if you are starting to feel more irritable and moody during these times, don’t worry too much about it. See if you can rally some support, like a friend or new grandparent who’s willing to stay the night. Notice if you feel better after a full night’s sleep.
It’s also totally normal to have periods where you feel a bit overwhelmed. The first day you’re alone with your baby will probably be very daunting. You’ll also probably wonder if you’re a good parent. For example, you’ll question whether you really want to sleep train that first night you’re hearing your baby cry. That’s ok! Parenting is an adventure that will be filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows, and that’s just a normal part of it.
What’s not normal?
Postpartum depression: PPD can start any time in the first year postpartum. It affects 15-20% of birthing persons, but it can also affect their partners. Symptoms can include:
- Intense feelings of overwhelm and/or guilt
- Numbness or like you haven’t bonded with your baby
- Sadness, you may notice yourself crying for no reason
- You can’t find the joy or humour in anything
- Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby
The biggest thing to notice here is that you aren’t able to feel positive emotions. Either you feel down all the time or you feel numbed out. If you are noticing any of these things, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone and there is help. The best thing that you can do is reach out to someone you trust and to share how you are feeling.
While anyone can get PPD, certain people may be more at risk. This includes people who have experienced depression in the past, people who are socially isolated or who have little support and those who did not receive prenatal care or who had a particularly stressful pregnancy.
Postpartum Anxiety: While not as common or as well known as PPD, postpartum anxiety is very common and rates are on the rise. It can also come on any time in the first year postpartum, and can coexist with PPD. Symptoms include:
- Episodes of racing heart, difficulty breathing, sweating that are not brought on by anything in particular
- Racing thoughts that you don’t feel like you can control
- Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, even when baby is sleeping
- Increased irritability
- Increased tension in your body, you may notice that you are clenching your jaw constantly, for example.
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Just like with PPD, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, there is help. Speak to your care provider, and reach out to someone you trust.
The most important thing to remember is that none of these experiences makes you a bad parent. You are suffering from a very real illness, but that doesn’t mean that you care for your child any less.
Ways to help prevent postpartum mood disorders
If you think you may be at higher risk of developing a postpartum mood disorder, you may want to speak to your care provider about ways to reduce your risks. Thankfully, there are many services available in Toronto and most hospitals in the downtown core have support groups. For example, Mt Sinai runs a perinatal mental health group. Starting these types of groups early, or pre-emptively can decrease your risk substantially .
Making sure you have good nutrition during and after your pregnancy can also help. Things like adequate protein, and healthy fats like oily fish ensure that your brain has everything it needs to create hormones and neurotransmitters.
Taking the time to take care of yourself can go a long way. Even if it’s just one minute of quiet breathing or a 5 minute shower. Doing things for yourself regularly will help you feel grounded and more like a person, as opposed to a 24/7 milk diner. Call on your partner or a friend to take care of baby for half an hour while you go for a solo walk, trust me, you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel when you get back.
One of the best things that you can do is to make sure you’re not isolated. Whether that means joining a parent group or meeting up with friends for coffee, knowing that you have support is so important. The nice thing about groups is that chances are, other people in the group have had or are having similar experiences to yours. You’re not alone.
Bottom line, if you think that something isn’t quite right, let someone know. Your care provider can give you good advice and good support, and you will get through this!
 “Pregnancy And Birth: Depression After Childbirth – What Can Help?”. PubMed Health. 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.
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This article is meant to provide information only, it does not substitute for personalized medical advice.