Bringing a newborn home is often depicted as a blissful time for parents to fall in love with their new baby. But not all parents have the expected feelings of serenity and adoration. For some, this time is marked by a deep emotional struggle known as Postpartum Depression (PPD).
Parents from all walks of life can go through PPD, and it can feel very lonely and scary. But you and your spouse don’t have to suffer alone.
What is PPD?
Becoming a mother is a time of huge change in a person’s life. Although there’s often joy in this transition, there’s also a lot of upheaval and stress. The unique stressors of this event can lead to depression.
PPD isn’t the same as the common feelings known as “baby blues.” As many as 75% of women experience these feelings of sadness in the days after birth. They may feel empty, weepy, anxious, or have mood swings. However, “baby blues” usually goes away without treatment within a few weeks.
But for roughly 15% of new mothers, these feelings don’t go away, and they can lead to a more serious form of emotional distress. Despite its name, PPD can start while a woman is still pregnant. It can also show up at any time in the first year after birth.
In very rare cases (roughly one in a thousand women), a dangerous condition known as Postpartum Psychosis can develop. Women who suffer from this may experience hallucinations, confusion, paranoia, obsessive thoughts, and a desire to harm themselves or their baby. If you see any of these symptoms, it is a medical emergency.
Even for those with milder PPD, it’s important to seek help. The condition can affect relationships and rob new parents of the joy of getting to know their new family member. Anyone who is suffering from depression for any reason deserves the support and treatment they need.
What causes PPD?
Most of the time, PPD isn’t caused by a single factor. Several elements often come into play, including:
Changes in Hormone Levels
Estrogen and progesterone levels plummet right after birth, and these dramatic changes can affect the mother’s mood. This is similar to the way hormone fluctuations can impact how women feel right before their period. However, the hormone changes during the postpartum period are much more extreme.
Parenthood comes with many intense emotions. People often feel pressure to be perfect and guilt when they believe they’re failing to live up to those expectations. The change in identity can be overwhelming, as a new mom grapples with what it means to be a mother and how it affects her. An unplanned pregnancy can result in mixed feelings about parenthood and (again) guilt about having these feelings.
Each person has their own feelings and struggles when it comes to parenthood, and some of those emotions may come as a surprise. Altogether, it’s a lot to process.
Women who have dealt with body image problems may have a hard time with the physical effects of pregnancy and childbirth. Changes in appearance can bring up painful emotions, leaving them feeling vulnerable.
A History of Depression
Women who have experienced depression at other times in their lives have a higher risk of developing PPD
Pregnancy, giving birth, and caring for a newborn are all exhausting. When a woman is grappling with other issues and trying to recover from childbirth, an interrupted sleep schedule is particularly hard to take.
Lack of Support
If a new mom doesn’t have family members to help with the transition, or they’re in an unhealthy relationship, they can be extremely isolated and stressed as they adjust to having a newborn.
Expectations from other about the “right” way to care for their baby can leave a new mom doubting herself. Some people project their beliefs about whether mothers should return to work outside the home or be a stay-at-home parent, instead of listening to what she wants for her life.
Women who don’t have the birth experience they’d hoped for may grapple with feelings of guilt or grief about what happened. Birth can even be traumatic, a reality that can be difficult to accept if you were expecting a “natural” experience.
Biological moms aren’t the only ones who experience PPD
You may notice that only some of those risk factors relate to the physical realities of pregnancy and birth. Many of the pressures are experienced by all new parents. There are also stressors that are unique to certain situations. Here are some other people who may experience PPD.
New fathers can suffer from PPD as well, based on many of the same risk factors. Fathers can also struggle with feeling excluded from the mother/child bonding, and they may miss the closeness they felt previously with their partner. Many men also struggle with finding a balance between work and spending time with their new family.
Postpartum Depression explains that new parents by adoption are subject to many of the same stressors. On top of that, they often feel extra pressure to be grateful, even when parenting is difficult or overwhelming. After what is often a long and difficult process to adopt, parents can feel unprepared for the emotional realities of parenthood. The unique issues around adoption, for the child as well as the adults involved, can be complicated to process.
Not only can parents struggle with depression after adoption, but it can strike at any time after the adoption.
Signs your partner may be suffering from PPD
One of the aspects of depression that can make it difficult to treat is that sufferers aren’t always able to acknowledge that they’re struggling. They may be too overwhelmed by what they’re feeling to recognize what’s happening. Many people also feel ashamed about experiencing mental illness, especially if they’re feeling pressured to be the perfect parent.
If you’re wondering if your partner is suffering from PPD, there are some signs to watch for. Keep in mind that these symptoms are considered PPD if they continue for more than two weeks.
- Feeling sad, depressed, or guilty.
- Experiencing panic or anxiety. This is often expressed as overwhelming, persistent fears about the baby’s health or safety.
- Extreme mood swings.
- Showing a lack of interest in normal activities that used to interest them.
- Exhaustion beyond the normal tiredness that comes with newborn care and isn’t improved with rest.
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much.
- Under eating or overeating.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- Expressing thoughts of self harm or suicide.
- Expressing thoughts or fears of harming the baby.
- Unusual irritability.
- Increased anger or conflict.
- Risk-taking behaviour.
- Working excessive hours.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
If you do see any of these signs in yourself or your partner, please know that there is help available.
What to do if you suspect your partner is suffering from PPD
It can be frightening to realize someone you love is struggling with their mental health. Ultimately, deciding to get help is up to them, no matter how much you want to help. But you can tell them that you care and offer your support.
Research shows that women who suffer from depression are more likely to show significant improvement if they have the support of a partner. It’s important to approach the subject carefully, so your spouse feels cared for, not pressured. Here are some suggestions:
- Sympathize with how she’s feeling.
- Assure her that she can get better.
- Tell her that she’s still a good mother, even if it doesn’t feel like she is.
- Assure her that you can tell how hard she’s working.
- Tell her you want to know what she needs from you and that you’re there to help.
- Reassure her that the baby is doing fine.
- Tell her that you love her.
Most of all, listen to her. PPD can feel very lonely, and it’s important for your spouse to know that you’re there for her. Offer to help her find a therapy option that will work for her. Many new parents appreciate how virtual therapy can fit into their schedule, so be sure to offer that.
When someone is struggling with depression, figuring out how to find a therapist and schedule an appointment can seem overwhelming. Offer your help, but be careful not to push too hard.
Trillium Counselling is here to help
If you or a loved one are struggling with PPD, the compassionate therapists at Trillium Counselling are here to help. We offer general depression counselling as well as prenatal and PPD therapy. If you would like more information about what e offer, please contact us. You can find joy in new parenthood, and the strength you find in therapy will serve you throughout your parenting years.