You’ve just given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby. The birth went well and your recovery is quick. The neighborhood has activated the casserole brigade to save you from making dinner during those first hectic weeks. Family members are coming out of the woodwork to help you feed and diaper your new bundle of joy. Loved ones keep assuring you that this is the best time of your life . . . but you’re weepy, irritable, and just not feeling the love.
What’s Wrong With Me?
There are few times during a woman’s lifetime that are as wrought with expectation as birth. For nine long months, everyone dreams their own film reel of what the birth is going to be like. So when you find yourself wheeled in the OR for an emergency Cesarean section when you’d hoped for a vaginal birth, or begging for an epidural when you’d hoped to forgo anesthesia, it’s natural that the gap between those societal ideals and the messy reality may cast a shadow on the joy of the celebration.
Baby Blues Are Very Real
Beyond the stress of high expectations, normal biological changes can seriously affect a new mother’s mood. About two-thirds of new mothers feel irritable, unsettled, and weepy in the weeks after birth. The root cause is hormonal. During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels are elevated to heights that a woman will not experience again during any other time of her life. After birth, the levels of those hormones plummet. Combine these sinking hormones with sleep deprivation and the stress of taking care of a vulnerable baby, and it’s no surprise that so many women feel emotional. Generally, the baby blues don’t last more than a few weeks at the most.
The Danger Zone of Postpartum Depression
Unfortunately, for approximately twelve percent of new mothers, the baby blues just don’t ebb. Since both the baby blues and postpartum depression share some of the same symptoms, they can be difficult to distinguish in the early weeks, but if you’re still experiencing them at your child’s first birthday, consider that you may be suffering from postpartum depression. If you find yourself having negative feelings about your baby, if you worry that you’re going to hurt him or her, or if you feel worthless, lack energy or motivation, are having suicidal thoughts or experiencing other depression-like symptoms, reach out for professional help.
Although you may not be able to control the stress, physical changes due to the pregnancy and birth, and hormonal changes that trigger these syndromes, studies show that eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and reaching out for help from friends as well as professionals can help lower your risk factors.