Having a baby is supposed to be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. For many women, this is not the case. Pregnancy and motherhood can trigger real emotional distress and even mood disorders that range from the well-known “baby blues”, which affect an estimated 85% of women, to the much more severe postpartum psychosis, which affects an estimated 0.1% of women.
Many women feel guilty or ashamed of how they are feeling if they don’t ease into the traditional role of “motherhood.” With the surge of emotions and activity that surround a pregnancy and the birth of a new baby, it can be hard to separate moods brought on by fatigue and hormone fluctuations from an actual mood disorder.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone and that postpartum mood disorders are treatable. You haven’t done anything wrong and there is nothing wrong with your ability to be a good mother. Getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby.
“I was so excited when I found out I was pregnant. I always wanted to be a mother and was confident that I would be good at it. When the baby finally came I was overwhelmed with emotion. Instead of that emotion being positive and joyful, I felt crushed. I couldn’t get happy. I felt like the baby was such a burden. I felt lousy about my body, my life and my ability to be a mom. When I found out about postpartum mood disorders I was so relieved. I discovered that my feelings were the result of an illness, not a reflection of my ability to be a good mother.” – Maureen, 27
The “baby blues”
This postpartum mood disorder usually begins in the third or fourth day after delivery and may include symptoms such as tearfulness, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration, fearfulness, and emotional upset. These emotions may come and go throughout the day and the condition often disappears in about one to two weeks. For a few women, however, the condition may last longer and develop into a more serious mood or anxiety disorder.
Postpartum depression (Major Depressive Disorder with postpartum onset)
This condition is estimated to affect approximately 10-15% of women and often begins within 2-26 weeks after delivery. In addition to some of the classic symptoms of depression or anxiety, women may also experience extreme irritability, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and intrusive thoughts about harming their baby. This condition is more common in women who have experienced depression before their pregnancy but many women have their first episode after pregnancy.
This illness, which affects only about 1-2 in 1000 new mothers, is the most serious of the postpartum mood disorders. Onset is rapid, sudden, and very dramatic, often within days to weeks of delivery. It can be characterized by psychotic depression, mania, hallucinations, delusions, extreme confusion and suicidal thoughts. It is a serious condition that demands rapid treatment for the safety of the mother and her baby. It is more common in women with bipolar disorder.
If you have been experiencing some of the following symptoms for more than two weeks after you have delivered your baby, you may be suffering from a postpartum mood disorder and should seek prompt professional assessment.
Postpartum mood disorders are very treatable. Effective treatments include:
The most important step to take is to become more knowledgeable about postpartum mood disorders and to seek help.
REMEMBER. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
For a list of places where you can get treatment and/or find a doctor, click here.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can learn more about your choices and figure out which treatments might be best for you. To learn more click here.
Postpartum Support International
Information for moms, their partners and link to chat rooms
Support Groups for Postpartum Mood Disorders
Our Sisters’ Place
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario
215-40 Orchard View Boulevard
Mothers Offering Mothers Support, Ottawa
c/o Ottawa-Carlton Health Dept.
(613) 565-2467 ext: 410
Maternal Support Programs, Women’s Health Centre
St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto, ON
Reproductive Life Stages Program
Women’s College Hospital
76 Grenville Street Toronto, Ontario M5S 1B2