Baby blues

It’s common to go through a bout of the blues in the first few weeks, and even months, after delivery. Here’s how to decide if your blues are a more serious case of postpartum depression (PPD) and how to tell when it’s time to get help.

What causes PPD?

Depression may affect up to 20 percent of new moms, making it the most common complication of the postpartum period. There are a lot of reasons why women suffer from PPD: Some women may have a genetic vulnerability to depression, while others may be particularly sensitive to the hormonal changes that their bodies are undergoing. Moms who have just given birth aren’t the only ones who can experience symptoms of PPD; dads, adoptive parents and same-sex partners can suffer from the same symptoms as well.

What are the symptoms?

  • A short fuse
  • Sadness, tearfulness
  • Increased irritability
  • Feelings of doubt, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness or restlessness
  • Unusual responses to situations
  • A sense of being overwhelmed
  • Not enjoying the baby
  • Feelings of being anxious around the baby
  • Having thoughts of hurting the baby
  • General fatigue
  • A lack of interest 
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping a lot, even when the baby is awake.

Remember that some baby blues are normal. After all, you are going through enormous transitions.

But if these symptoms persist for two weeks or more, or if the bad days are outnumbering the good, it’s time to seek help. (Talk to your doctor or Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacist for further help.)

Getting help

The pressure to be a superwoman and the stigma of mental illness can make it difficult to ask for help. “It’s a fallacy to think that you can take care of your child when you’re not well yourself,” says Dr. Shaila Misri, director of the Reproductive Mental Health Program at St. Paul’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre in Vancouver. The earlier PPD is treated, the better. If symptoms start during pregnancy and last for two weeks or more, speak to your healthcare practitioner. “If women aren’t treated during pregnancy, depression will most likely get worse postpartum, once a lack of sleep and other stressors are thrown in,” says Lori Ross, a research scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

For mild depression

If you’re suffering from mild depression, you need weekly or biweekly monitoring by a supportive family physician or health care provider. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself by sleeping when you can, eating well and exercising. Check out local or online support groups to stay connected with other moms.

For moderate to severe depression

If your depression is out of your control, psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, may be helpful. Medication is also an option. “All antidepressants pass through breast milk, so you want to choose one that passes through the least,” says Misri. If you’re concerned about exposure, you might want to consider supplementing. “Just don’t delay,” she says. “Untreated PPD has longer-lasting effects than the risk of exposure through breast milk.”(Be sure to talk to your Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacist about the dosage of your medication, as well as ask how it will affect your breast milk if you are breastfeeding.)

Taking care of yourself

While your every thought as a new mom is consumed by your baby, it’s critical that you take some time for yourself to help ward off symptoms of PPD.

  • Sit down with your partner and figure out who in your support network can do what, from holding the baby for a couple of hours while you nap to doing a couple of loads of laundry for you.
  • Get as much sleep as you can. Limit visitors to a certain time of day, and unplug the phone when you go to lie down.
  • Eat well and stay hydrated. Welcome prepared meals from friends and family, and keep snacks on hand that you can eat while you’re feeding the baby.
  • Get some exercise. Look for yoga or fitness classes in your community that are geared toward new moms – you can bring your baby, meet other moms and also be sure that you’re working out at an appropriate level.