The newborn is crying – and so is the new mom. A few days after childbirth, it is common for women to feel depressed, anxious, or upset as their hormones fluctuate.
But how seriously should mom – and her family members – take these emotional turns?
“The biggest difference between postpartum depression and the ‘baby blues’ is the severity and length of time that women experience these feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety,” said Mercedes Szpunar, M.D., Ph.D., the Physician Director of the Maternal Mental Health Program at Hoag.
As a researcher, clinician and recognized expert in the diagnosis and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, Dr. Szpunar advises that women should make honest assessments about their mood and mental state and seek help when needed.
“Hoag’s Maternal Mental Health Program is here for you, during and after pregnancy,” Dr. Szpunar said. “Too often women feel that they will be judged for feeling anything other than joy in early motherhood. This leads women to suffer needlessly. There is no shame in asking for help.”
How to tell the difference between “baby blues” and postpartum depression?
Time. “It is common for women to experience mood swings, weepiness and irritability or sadness that lasts a few days to a few weeks after childbirth. When these feelings persist for two weeks or more, we would consider this to be postpartum depression,” Dr. Szpunar said. Perinatal depression can begin as early as during pregnancy and develop as late as one year after giving birth.
Severity. It is not easy to get out of bed when you’re getting so little sleep, but postpartum depression is more than your typical reaction to sleep deprivation. “Symptoms may interfere with a mother’s ability to care for her baby and handle other daily tasks,” Dr. Szpunar said. “They could be accompanied by thoughts of harming herself or the baby, severe anxiety or panic attacks.” Also, a mother could have difficulty bonding with her baby.
Anger, Frustration & Anxiety. People think of depression as sadness, but sometimes depression presents as anger, frustration, or anxiety. “The term we use is ‘postpartum depression,’ but the symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, guilt, worthlessness, and feeling overwhelmed,” Dr. Szpunar said.
Feelings of Inadequacy. Similarly, women experiencing postpartum depression might feel as though they’re ‘bad moms.’ “This feeling is accompanied by a lot of shame, as women are told they’re supposed to be ‘natural’ at this,” Dr. Szpunar said. “Through cognitive behavioral therapy or group psychotherapy at Hoag, we can help women see that they are not alone in these feelings, and that feeling overwhelmed does not make them a ‘bad mom.’”
“Intrusive Thoughts.” In some cases, women experiencing postpartum depression may have what some therapists refer to as “intrusive thoughts,” a preoccupation with death, or thoughts of harming themselves or their children. “If you experience any symptoms of postpartum baby blues or postpartum depression, call us. We are here for you,” Dr. Szpunar said. “The best thing you can do for yourself, and your baby is to get help immediately. I can’t count the number of women that have told me, ‘I wish that I made this appointment sooner.’ If you have any concerns, our team will give you treatment options.”
Everyone needs help at different times in life, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your Maternal Mental Health care team at Hoag. We’ll help find fast answers to your questions before, during, and after your treatment.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please call 949-764-8191 to learn more about our Maternal Mental Health resources and scheduling options.