Mild mood swings may be considered a normal part of pregnancy, but 15 to 20% of women experience more significant depression symptoms before or after giving birth. Changes in environment, relationships, and other major adjustments in life occur during this time, but if feelings of sadness, tearfulness, and being more emotional than usual last more than seven days, you may be developing postpartum depression.
The Fourth Trimester
A pregnant woman’s body does not stop experiencing changes when her third trimester ends. The first six to 12 weeks after her baby is born is the fourth trimester. It is important to monitor a new mother’s physical and emotional symptoms just as was done during the other trimesters of her pregnancy.
There is a vast amount of hormonal and physical changes that occur when a new mom’s body is trying to get back to its pre-pregnancy state. These changes and stressors can make moms more susceptible to behavioral health issues. Although the word “depression” is used, postpartum symptoms can also include anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar mood disorders, or postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum depression reveals itself through emotional and physical symptoms. Emotional symptoms include feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, lost pleasure in everyday activities, withdrawing from loved ones, worries of not being able to take care of or harming her baby, and not feeling connected with her baby. Physical symptoms may include loss of appetite or overeating and trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time.
Existing Stigmas of Postpartum Depression
Gaining an awareness of the existing stigmas of postpartum depression may help shed light to another struggling mother that she is not alone. Staying silent about them will only perpetuate the stigmas.
In general, behavioral health during and after pregnancy has been a taboo subject in past generations. Often referred to as just the “Baby Blues,” feeling depressed after childbirth was seen as a flaw in character by some. However, getting diagnosed with postpartum depression, or any other mental health condition, is out of the mother’s control. People receive treatments for physical disorders with no shame — it should be the same for anyone seeking mental help.
Many societal “norms” are forced upon new moms. They are told they should feel a “joy like no other,” automatically inherit maternal instincts, and have a natural bond with their newborn. You can see how this causes guilt as any expression of doubt or being overwhelmed completely goes against these expectations. Many mothers struggle with these societal norms.
Finally, postpartum depression doesn’t affect mothers only, any parent can struggle with depression after having a baby. It’s been reported that 10% of new dads suffer from postpartum. They deserve the same openness to seek treatment.
How You Can Help
If you notice these symptoms in a loved one or yourself, talk to a health care provider. Seek out the available resources in your community to help those struggling with postpartum depression.
Finally, remain open to the new normal and help create a safe community for those who struggle. Know how to talk to new parents who express concern. Validate their feelings, offer help, empathy and compassion, and assure them that they are not alone.
UPMC Expert: Changing the Stigma of Postpartum Depression
By Kathryn Swatkowski, CNM
Kathryn Swatkowski is a certified nurse-midwife with UPMC OB/GYN and sees patients at UPMC Williamsport, 740 High St., Suite 1004. To schedule an appointment with Kathryn Swatkowski, call 570-321-3301. For more information, visit UPMCSusquehanna.org/OBGYN.