While having a new baby can certainly be a positive experience, filled with joy and excitement, it’s also normal for this period to be clouded by negative emotions.
Commonly, between three and five days after giving birth, women experience significant hormonal changes, which contribute to what are known as the “baby blues.”
The baby blues occur in about 80% of new mothers. They are marked by crying, anxiety, irritability, and a sense of being restless and overwhelmed. These symptoms tend to be coupled with exhaustion, since women are getting minimal sleep during the night while they care for their newborns. Generally, these symptoms subside after a few weeks, as women settle into a routine with their child. However, for approximately 10-15 percent of mothers, these feelings do not improve, but actually worsen. This phenomenon is known as postpartum depression. Symptoms of PPD include a high degree of sadness, hopelessness, aggression, extreme stress, and potentially feelings of detachment from the baby. Anxiety and panic attacks may also arise.
PPD tends to last for up to one year. Postpartum depression is more common in women who already have older children at home; however, it also occurs in first-time mothers. As well, women are more likely to develop PPD if they already experienced bouts of depression before giving birth, or if PPD runs in their family.
If you are feeling emotionally unwell following your baby’s birth, take the following steps:
- Focus on fuelling yourself with healthy foods;
- Sleep as much as you can, which will likely include taking naps in the daytime if you are up during the night with your little one;
- Take walks or get another form of exercise (even though this may be the last thing you feel like doing);
- Let the chores go, or ask others for help with domestic tasks;
- Talk to your partner, or a trusted friend, about what you’ve been experiencing.
If practical strategies do not assist your mood, discuss your concerns with your family doctor right away. You are not alone, and help is available. Women often benefit from a combination of medication and psychotherapy.