If the following sounds impassioned, it is because nothing bothers me more than when a woman’s feelings are dismissed. Two weeks ago I met a pregnant woman who described experiencing depression after her first pregnancy, but received no help or support because she was told by her family physician that she was just going through the baby blues - 5 months after she had given birth.
Baby blues last 2 to 3 weeks at the most and resolve on their own.
A mom may experience mood swings ranging from extreme happiness to weepiness. It is not uncommon to feel sad for most of the time during the first few weeks postpartum, as your body and emotions adjust to new circumstances. Pregnancy and postpartum are a time of tremendous physical, hormonal, and emotional changes. Up to 80% of new moms experience baby blues, but they do not last for several months nor do they leave a mother feeling worthless, helpless, hopeless, and unable to find any joy at all. “I just thought, well, this is what it was like to be a mother,” she said.
Baby blues are not the same as postpartum depression and postpartum depression is not the same as baby blues!
While it is normal and expected to feel exhausted, sleep deprived, irritable, overwhelmed with new and never ending responsibilities, and, at times, angry and even resentful of the baby and those around, it is not normal to feel hopeless and believe that you are worthless, feel perpetually guilty and profoundly sad, or have thoughts that the baby would be better without you. The line between the baby blues and postpartum depression may not seem like a clear one, especially because so much is changing so quickly and people often expect a mom to feel and behave a certain way.
Experiences are subjective, so how is a mom supposed to know when the baby blues are no longer the baby blues? It is overwhelming and scary at times, but not all of the time. Postpartum depression is a qualitatively different experience; up to 15-20% of new moms experience it. It interferes with a mother’s daily functioning: she can’t shower, sleep even when exhausted, eat, or have a conversation. Though this can be said about any new mom some of the time, it does not describe her all of the time, especially not beyond 2-3 weeks postpartum.
It is important to mention that anxiety is, in fact, more common than depression during pregnancy and postpartum. However, it is less talked about and acknowledged perhaps, because, as new mothers, we are expected to have some anxiety when preparing for a birth of a new baby. It is also more accepted to exhibit signs of anxiety as opposed to depression during this period in our lives when we are supposed to be experiencing only happy thoughts and emotions. Often, anxiety and depression occur simultaneously. Some levels of anxiety are not only healthy but also necessary at certain points in our lives, especially when there is a new baby to take care of. However, when worry becomes so intrusive and incessant that it interferes with daily life, and restlessness and hyper-vigilance take over, measures should be taken as soon as possible.
If you don’t feel like yourself and feel that something is wrong – listen to yourself. No one knows you better than you do.
If your doctor brushes it off as the baby blues past your second month after giving birth, ask more questions, mention it to your child’s pediatrician – moms often tell me that they are often more receptive to hear about how they feel. There are many great resources online as well. Toronto Public Health and Telehealth Ontario are great places to start – they are free and they are anonymous if you so choose. There is much help out there - you just need to reach out or ask your partner or a family member to reach out because, sometimes, they don’t know what to do either.
Toronto Public Health: 416-338-7600
Telehealth Ontario toll-free: 1-866-797-0000
Lana Mamisashvilli is a psychotherapist who has worked in the field of perinatal mental health (pregnancy and postpartum) for more than 12 years and is passionate about helping new moms transition to motherhood. Healthy Moms cardholders receive a free 30 minute initial consultation with Lana (in person or by phone) and 25% off therapy sessions. Find out more here: https://gohealthymoms.com/lana-mamisashvili-counselling-psychotherapy