Postpartum, Anxiety and Depression

The postpartum period, or the year following the birth of a child, can be a miraculous and terrifying time for a woman.   As many women find, life with a new baby is a raw and fragile experience. There are many factors that come into play during this period; beginning with the labor and birth of the baby, women experience dramatic hormone shifts, inevitable adjustments to relationships (husband, parents, friends), new financial stressors, identity issues, and issues of social support. These are experiences typical of a postpartum period, but it is not uncommon for there to also be health issues, colic, a traumatic birth, or a loss, all compounding the stress and emotions following a birth.  Emotionally and psychologically, it is a dynamic time that can surprise a woman with depression and/or anxiety symptoms.

Psychological and psychiatric disorders occur for about 20% of women during their postpartum period. These disorders are on a spectrum starting from what many know as the “baby blues” -- which lasts only a few weeks and includes feelings of overwhelm, tearfulness, nervousness, and confusion -- to a much more rare and extreme disorder called postpartum psychosis -- experiencing delusions and/or hallucinations. In between lie postpartum adjustment disorders, postpartum depression, anxiety, and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder.  Aside from the “baby blues,” postpartum depression is perhaps the most commonly identified postpartum condition, and yet anxiety symptoms are also frequently reported. Postpartum depression or anxiety lasts up to 1 year after delivery and includes excessive sensitivity, low self-esteem, apathy, withdrawal, appetite disturbance, lack of pleasure, function impairment and marked distress.  Women may feel overwhelming fatigue or insomnia, disconnection, anxiety attacks, suicidal thoughts, and--in the case of postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder--intrusive thoughts of harm coming to their baby.

A new mom is expected to immediately fall in love with her newborn baby, and to naturally take to motherhood, breast feeding her baby, and connecting to her baby. To feel anything but this can be confusing and shameful. To whom can she admit that she doesn’t feel connected to her baby, that she has visions of dropping him down the stairs, that she doesn’t want to get out of bed to care for her baby?  It becomes the job of those around her--a partner, parents, friends--to connect her to support, as it is the mother’s health that comes first in these moments. Postpartum depression and anxiety are temporary conditions that are treatable, and the sooner they are identified and a mom finds the right treatment--whether it be therapy, medication, group support--the sooner she can enjoy being a mom.



In Illinois: Perinatal Depression 24 hour hotline (NorthShore University HealthSystem) 1-866-364-MOMS

Outside of Illinois: Postpartum Support International 1-800-944-4PPD