So why is it that nearly one in four new moms experience profound sadness, anxiety, or depression in the first six weeks after the new baby goes home?
“In TV shows and movies, it shows that it should be the happiest point in your life,” said Dr. Amy Greenamyer, a Louisville counselor who specializes in women’s issues, fertility, and pregnancy-related adjustment. “You should be thrilled to have this new baby. But many feel regrets about having gotten pregnant to begin with. ‘What did we do to our lives, we’ve ruined our lives.’ There’s guilt that comes with those types of thoughts, because we should be happy about this.”
The fact is that having a new person in your home requires an adjustment, not just by the mother, but by all those in her support circle. Feelings of fear and doubt are common.
“In reality, those first six weeks are tough. Most people don’t sleep well. They are physically recovering from pregnancy,” Dr. Greenamyer said.
Postpartum depression can occur as early as a week or two after birth, or it can be delayed up to six months. What Dr. Greenamyer calls “the baby blues” usually lasts about two weeks, in which new moms are weepy, sensitive, sad, and often irritable. When symptoms like hopelessness, a lack of interest in the baby, or not being able to get up and take a shower occur, the case can be more serious.
“She’s not able to do all the things she did before. Often it is not the happiest point in their lives. Sometimes she needs to just hear from a professional who can say ‘It is going to get better and it’s OK not to like this part,’” Dr. Greenamyer said. “You don’t have to like the baby right now. The baby cries 18 hours a day. There’s not a lot to like about that.”
But when those feelings persist, it’s time to ask for help. New parents can discuss the issue with family members, or with their obstetrician or pediatrician. The doctors can also refer them to qualified therapists, as needed.
Dr. Greenamyer said there are medications that are safe for women to take, even while nursing. Some women may be helped by counseling, even on a short-term basis. She said that while studies show that up to 25 percent of new moms suffer from postpartum depression, the causes are not well documented. Many times it occurs when parents are overwhelmed by the adjustment to life with a baby.
“It’s challenging because they don’t know what to expect,” she said. “They assume not sleeping, not having any appetite, being irritable and miserable is just part of the deal. Not necessarily. That shouldn’t be part of having a baby in the house.”
The bottom line is that there’s no shame in feeling depressed when so many changes are going on in your life, and for those whose postpartum depression doesn’t go away quickly, there is plenty of help available.