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Postpartum depression: What to do when you're struggling

You have a new baby, and everyone around you is so excited. So why do you feel less than happy?

You might have postpartum depression (PPD). More than just the baby blues, PPD is a serious health condition that usually begins during the first month after childbirth, but it can begin up to a year later.

What are the baby blues?

According to Mental Health America (MHA), up to 80% of new moms have mood swings, or baby blues. These women may:

  • Feel sad or anxious.
  • Cry easily.
  • Have appetite loss and sleeping problems.

Experts believe that the baby blues is caused by changes in hormone levels during and soon after delivery. Fortunately, the symptoms tend to go away on their own. You'll usually feel better within a week or two as hormones level out.

In the meantime, the March of Dimes and other experts say these steps can help:

  • Talk about your feelings with your partner or a good friend.
  • Try a support group for new moms.
  • Try to get as much sleep and rest as you can.
  • Ask your partner, family and friends for help.
  • Get out of the house every day, even if it's just for a short time.

Recognizing postpartum depression

Sometimes symptoms of the baby blues become more severe and last longer than a couple of weeks. In that case, they may be caused by PPD.

PPD symptoms include more extreme versions of the baby blues along with symptoms of general depression. You may experience:

  • A hopeless and overwhelmed feeling.
  • Lack of energy or motivation.
  • Trouble focusing, remembering or making decisions.
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you previously enjoyed.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Excessive preoccupation with the baby's health.
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or yourself (if you are concerned about this, contact your provider right away).
  • Not having any interest in the baby.

You may also have physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach problems. If several of these symptoms occur for more than two weeks after delivery, or if you think you may have PPD, let your provider know right away.

If you do have PPD, you'll need treatment.

What you can do

The two main types of treatment for PPD are medicine and counseling. In addition, the following tips from MHA and the Office on Women's Health may help:

  • Spend time with friends and in support groups.
  • Exercise when you can. And eat healthy food. These steps can improve your mood.
  • Avoid caffeine. It can trigger anxiety and cause mood changes.
  • Don't try to do everything. Do what you can and ask for help with the rest.
  • Ask for help with chores and nighttime feedings. If possible, have a friend, family member or professional support person help you at home for part of the day.

Remember, feeling depressed after giving birth is nothing to feel ashamed of. Get treatment right away. It can help you feel better. And then you can start enjoying your life as a new mom.

Reviewed 1/31/2023

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