Identifying Post-Partum Depression

“I fell into a black hole that ate me.”

That’s how a dear friend began her blog post on Post-Partum Depression. At the time, she was pregnant with her third baby, and I was pregnant with my first. Her vivid description of her earlier struggles with PPD was a wake-up call: I needed to educate myself and my husband about the warning signs before this baby arrived.

A few days after reading my friend’s blog post, I reached out to another friend who had suffered a major depressive episode after the birth of her daughter.  She responded:

Even though I had experienced depression before, PPD was so different – the anxiety, the hypervigilance about the baby–that I didn’t even recognize it. I thought the misery was just new motherhood . . .

Giving birth brings with it hormone shifts and sleep disruptions; it’s typical for new parents to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.  But when does typical new-baby adjustment cross the line into PPD?

According to the United State’s Office of Women’s Health, 13 percent of new mothers experience depression marked by one or more the following symptoms lasting more than two weeks:

  • Feeling restless or moody
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, and overwhelmed
  • Crying a lot
  • Having no energy or motivation
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Having trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Having memory problems
  • Feeling worthless and guilty
  • Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Having headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems that don’t go away

So-called “baby blues” may last for a few days as the body adjusts to hormone and lifestyle changes. But if symptoms persist, it’s time to reach out to a medical professional.

As for me, well before I gave birth, I asked my OB/GYN to make a note on my chart to ask me probing questions about my mental and emotional health at my six-week appointment.  I gave my husband the list of warning signs.  I knew from experience with family and friends the person experiencing depression is sometimes the last one to recognize it.  I wanted to give myself the gift of professional help, should I need it.

As it turns out, I did not experience PPD. But now that I’m pregnant again, I’m reviewing the signs and symptoms.  We owe it to ourselves and to our families to be healthy. If you feel you are at risk for PPD or may have it, please talk to your doctor, midwife, or close friends and family to get help.

Deborah Farmer Kris is a teacher, writer, and mother.  She nurtures an healthy interest in ethics, psychology, and gardening — and is always on the lookout for recipes to cope with her excess vegetable harvest. 

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