If depression persists and has a negative impact on your appetite and your ability to sleep, or if it leads to feelings of apathy, hopelessness, suicidal urges, or urges to harm your baby, get professional help immediately! Such profound and lasting depression not only represents a threat to you, but will also adversely affect your relationship with your baby and may interfere with his development.
If you're one of those parents who feel great and welcome the new joys and responsibilities that your baby has brought, that's terrific. After all, you've brought a new life into the world and caring for him can be both challenging and exhilarating. But if you feel terrible as a new parent, you're not alone. As many as one out of four new mothers suffer from postpartum depression that persists for several months after the birth of their baby. In addition, at least half go through a brief period of depression immediately after delivery, but this depression generally lasts only a week or so.
Because depression may be linked to the postpartum drop in hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone), your doctor may attempt to treat your depression medically by controlling the drop in hormone levels. This process involves getting shots to replace the hormones that drop so rapidly after delivery and then titrating (gradually decreasing) the dosage over several weeks.
However, despite common belief, postpartum depression is not all due to hormones. New parents often have plenty of good reasons to be depressed. Becoming a new parent puts a tremendous physical and emotional strain on you. If you're feeling depressed, try dealing with some of these factors:
Don't hang around the house all day. Despite your baby's company, keeping yourself housebound only increases your sense of isolation. Especially during the first year, your baby is extremely portable. Go on a long walk, visit a museum, visit with friends, or go shopping. In short, do anything you can to get out and about.
- Fatigue. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation and exhaustion can lead to depression. The link between exhaustion and depression underlines the importance of getting whatever rest you can. Take advantage of the opportunity to nap or just rest a little when your baby takes a nap. Also, allow yourself to let non-baby chores slide a bit.
- Letdown. After nine months of pregnancy, labor and delivery have brought the big build-up of energy, excitement, and anxiety to an end. In addition to missing the feeling of having your baby growing inside you, you may feel a letdown now that the exhilarating anticipation is over. Or you may be disappointed that you don't feel as much as you wish you did. It might help to recognize that every end also represents a beginning. Yes, the pregnancy is over, but you still have years of challenges, defeats, triumphs, and joys ahead of you. (Of course, this prospect also might be precisely what depresses you.)
- Isolation. During the final weeks of pregnancy, friends and relatives may have flocked to your side, offering whatever help they could. Even strangers may have offered to hold the door for you, give up their seat on a bus or park bench for you, and so on. After your baby's birth, you may face all the chores you used to do plus all the new responsibilities of parenthood and have no help to deal with it all. You may end up feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, abandoned, unappreciated, and/or resentful-and to make matters worse, guilty about these feelings. You have every right to feel this way. The responsibilities of new parenthood are neverending and largely thankless.
Again, it's important to ask for the help you need. Ask your partner, other relatives, and friends to do what they can. Or if you can afford it, hire someone for a few hours a week to help with non-baby chores like housecleaning. You may even want to hire someone to take the baby for an hour or two so that you can take care of yourself.
- Invisibility. Most people, perhaps even your partner, will now focus most (if not all) of their interest and attention on the baby: "How's he doing?" "Oh, he's so cute." "Wow, what an appetite he's got." "Who does he look like?" In many eyes, new mothers fade into the background. If you feel ignored and neglected, talk to your partner and others close to you about how you feel. Let them know that you need a little attention, too.
Also, treat yourself to some special time just for you, every day if you can do it. Get some exercise. Go out to dinner with your partner once in a while. Or have your partner take the baby while you take a long, hot bath (hopefully, in a relatively sound-proof bathroom).
Guard against letting the baby blues drag you too far down. Seek help if you need it-from your partner, your family, your friends, or professionals. Do it for your baby as well as for yourself. After all, he needs you to take care of yourself-so that you can take care of him.