By: Sophie Gilbert, Penfield Children’s Center
Giving birth to a child can be one of the happiest and most important moments in a woman’s life. While life with a new baby can be joyous and rewarding, it can also be stressful to deal with hormonal changes and what some call ‘the baby blues’. Many new moms experience mild depression after giving birth, and up to 20% of new moms can experience a more distressing form of depression known as postpartum or perinatal depression.
Any woman who is pregnant, had a baby within the past several months, had a miscarriage, recently weaned a child from breastfeeding, or adopted a child can suffer from postpartum depression. Postpartum depression may happen regardless of age, socioeconomic status, number of children that have been born, or how many previous pregnancies or postpartum adjustments a woman has had.
Although postpartum depression can be unnerving, it is completely normal to experience these feelings as your body changes. Francine Cosner, MD, Obstetric Laborist at Cleveland Clinic Foundation emphasized the importance of acknowledging these feelings and not having shame or guilt for going through postpartum depression; “Hormonal changes happen very sharply, and the receptors in your brain are sensitive to that. It’s no wonder that women feel this way after they have a baby.”
Dr. Cosner stated that more attention is being paid to monitoring postpartum depression in the medical field now, but many women have a hard time recognizing what they are going through. “Postpartum depression is a very real thing. I think people tend not to recognize it because they expect it to be sadness, feeling depressed, and crying. Really, it can be more on the spectrum of anxiety, depression, and can include some obsessive-compulsive symptoms.” In Dr. Cosner’s practice, she has seen women experience a cycle of shame or guilt after giving birth. When women experience postpartum depression, they can feel overwhelmed, paralyzed, or feel like they aren’t able to start. These feelings lead to a cycle of guilt and shame for feeling buried or feeling like a bad mother.
Dr. Cosner said that some women might realize they went through postpartum depression up to a year after having their baby. “You see a lot of women who recognize they went through this after the fact. A year later, they’ll realize wow, I really suffered, and there was no reason for me to suffer like that.” Dr. Cosner recommends medical therapy for treating postpartum depression. Medical therapy can be very helpful, and a lot of times, the therapy can be short-term as the mother adjusts to her body and the new changes in her life.
Postpartum depression can be a real concern, but it’s important to know that many women struggle with postpartum depression for a myriad of reasons, and you never have to deal with these feelings on your own. “I reassure the patient that this is not a flaw, this is not them being a bad parent– it’s really a neurochemical thing that happens because hormones are shifting so rapidly,” says Dr. Cosner. Talk to your doctor about having a 2-week postpartum check-in, and make sure your partner or family members know the signs of postpartum depression, and how they can help if you experience these feelings.
What can your partner, friends, or family members do to help you monitor possible symptoms of postpartum depression?