The time immediately following childbirth, the postpartum period, typically lasts for about six weeks. A sudden drop in reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, in combination with recovery from delivery, and the new stress of a baby can cause an unexpected change in the mood of new mothers. The typical motherhood myths, such as, “happy motherhood,” fail to prepare new mothers for the baby blues and other more serious postpartum conditions. During this postpartum period, the multitude of changes that occur in the new mother’s body and life can lead to a variety of postpartum mood disorders.
Postpartum Mood Disorders
THE BABY BLUES
Occurring in about 75-85% of new mothers, the baby blues consists of a period of mild depression following childbirth. Lasting for about 2 weeks, the Baby Blues may include symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, sadness, fatigue, and inability to cope.
Treatment: Treating the baby blues typically does not require medical attention. Coping mechanisms include; embracing supportive relationships, hiring a newborn care professional (commonly known as a baby nurse) to help with nighttime care of the infant, and proper nutrition and sleep for Mom.
Seen in 10-20% of new mothers, postpartum depression is an intensified version of the baby blues. Its onset can occur at any point in the year after delivery and may last 3 to 14 months, or longer. Symptoms are similar to Major Depressive Disorder, and include feelings of guilt, thoughts of inadequacy as a parent, thoughts of harming oneself or baby, and loss of interest in the new baby, to name a few.
Treatment: Individual or couples therapy; support groups; psychotropic medications; newborn assistance.
POSTPARTUM PANIC DISORDER
Presenting in up to 10% of new mothers, postpartum panic disorder is less commonly diagnosed. Signs of postpartum panic disorder may include frequent panic attacks, extreme anxiety, and excessive worrying.
Treatment: individual therapy; psychotropic medication; support groups; newborn care assistance.
POSTPARTUM OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER
Seen in about 3-5% of women, this condition, similar to postpartum panic disorder, is also less commonly diagnosed. Symptoms of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder include intrusive and continual thoughts (obsessions) accompanied with behaviors aimed at alleviating these thoughts (compulsions). Reportedly, the most common obsession is harming one’s baby and the most common compulsion is bathing the newborn or changing his clothing.
Treatment: individual therapy; psychotropic medication; support groups; newborn assistance.
Occurring in 1-2 women out of every 1,000 births, postpartum psychosis includes symptoms such as mania, confusion, and delusions and/or hallucinations, to name a few. This condition is very serious and can sometimes result in suicide or infanticide. Immediate treatment of a woman with postpartum psychosis is paramount.
Treatment: antipsychotic medication, hospitalization, psychotherapy, family and social support.
Understanding the changes that occur in the postpartum period and knowing when to take appropriate action for any of these mood disorders can help mother more quickly begin to enjoy her new baby. For more information or to talk with our favorite expert and clinical psychologist Dr. Shoshana Bennett, visit www.drshosh.com.
Hibbert, Christina G. “Postpartum Mood Disorders: An Informational Guide For Couples.” Postpartum Mood Disorders:. Web. 3 Oct. 2015.