Depression is a common mental health condition, affecting about 8.4% of U.S. adults within a given year. While depression can affect anyone, mothers who have just given birth are at an especially high risk. Recent data show that around 34% of women experience postpartum depression, a figure that increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, new mothers may dismiss their symptoms as being “just the baby blues,” or they may be fearful of reaching out for help, because of shame or stigma. Here, learn how to identify symptoms of postpartum depression, as well as what you can do if you’re struggling.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
As its name suggests, postpartum depression refers to a depressive episode that occurs after a woman gives birth. It’s normal to experience some sadness after giving birth, but if it lasts more than two weeks and is accompanied by additional symptoms, it’s probably more than just the “baby blues.”
Postpartum depression is common, and it can develop because of the hormonal shifts that occur after pregnancy. Hormone levels drop rapidly after a woman gives birth, which can result in profound shifts in mood. Some women may experience a few days of sadness and quickly begin to feel like themselves again; in this case, they are probably experiencing the baby blues. Other women may experience full-blow postpartum depression, which has many symptoms in common with major depressive disorder, but also some unique features.
Postpartum Depression Signs and Symptoms
If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, it is important to seek treatment, but you may be unsure if you’re experiencing depression, or simply adjusting to the challenges that come with new motherhood. Beyond feelings of sadness and frequent crying, the five signs below are indicative of postpartum depression.
Your Mood Doesn’t Improve in the Days After Baby is Born
Temporary feelings of sadness are common after giving birth, because hormones shift, and your body is adjusting to the demands associated with breastfeeding and around-the-clock caregiving, while also recovering from the physical effects of childbirth. If feelings of sadness or hopelessness persist for more than two weeks and do not improve, you’re likely experiencing postpartum depression, and not just the simple baby blues.
Thoughts of Harm
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide are typically associated with depression, but they may present a little differently in women with postpartum depression. For example, thoughts of suicide are a symptom of depression, but women with postpartum depression may have unsettling thoughts of harming their babies, in addition to thoughts of harming themselves.
Feelings of Guilt or Worthlessness
Feeling guilty and worthless is another symptom of postpartum depression. More specifically, women with postpartum depression may feel guilty or worthless, because they feel that they are not good mothers, or that they are not bonding with their babies. With postpartum depression, feelings of guilt or doubts about your abilities as a mother can begin to consume your thoughts.
Lack of Interest in Enjoyable Activities
Depression can make it difficult to find enjoyment in everyday life. Lack of pleasure and interest in usual activities can even make you feel uninterested in your baby. You may feel as if the baby belongs to someone else, and you may not experience the feelings of joy that come with being a new mother.
Difficulty Concentrating and Making Decisions
It’s normal to have a little bit of brain fog after giving birth. After all, your sleep patterns have probably changed, and you’re likely to be exhausted after being up at night with a new baby. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, concentration problems can be severe. You may have difficulty completing daily tasks such as changing the baby’s diaper or tidying up the house, because you simply cannot focus.
Treating Postpartum Depression
If you’re experiencing signs of postpartum depression, it is important to reach out to your doctor or midwife for treatment. You may be ashamed of seeking help, but the reality is that postpartum depression is common, and your providers are trained in recognizing and treating it.
In many cases, postpartum depression is treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Your doctor can prescribe medication to address your symptoms, and if you are breastfeeding, they will work with you to select a medication that is safe for you and your baby. In therapy or counseling sessions, you can learn about postpartum depression and develop strategies for coping.
While therapy and/or medication is beneficial for many moms with postpartum depression, some may not experience adequate symptom relief with these standard treatment methods. In this case, you may benefit from alternative treatment approaches. One such modality that is beneficial in cases of treatment-resistant depression is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS is a noninvasive treatment modality that uses a device placed against the head to stimulate areas of the brain responsible for mood regulation.
The benefit of TMS for postpartum depression is that it is safe for breastfeeding mothers, and there is no downtime required after treatment. Simply report to a clinic or office for a 20-minute TMS session, and you will be able to resume your normal activities, including driving, breastfeeding, and tending to your baby, immediately after.
If you’re looking for postpartum depression treatment in the Los Angeles area, Pulse TMS is here to help. We can treat depression during pregnancy as well as during the postpartum period, and you can continue to attend therapy sessions and take your antidepressant medications if needed. Contact us today to learn if you are a candidate for TMS.