I know that you're really busy right now. I just wanted to take a second of your time to be sure that you know about a set of health complications that can occur after childbirth. They are called "perinatal mood & anxiety disorders" or PMAD for short. There are 5 things that I want you to know:
1) These issues are more common than you think. The majority of mothers feel more sad or anxious after having a baby. If it's mild and passes in a few weeks, we call it the "baby blues." However, for as many as 20% of new mothers, the symptoms become more severe and last longer.
2) We're talking about more than just depression. It's important to know that there is a wide range of mental health symptoms that can be triggered during the postpartum period. Depression and anxiety are most common. Mania and psychosis are rare but serious issues. Any mental health condition you've previously experienced may recur or worsen after childbirth.. If you notice changes in your thoughts, behavior, emotions, appetite, or sleep patterns, talk to your doctor.
Be on the lookout for any of the following symptoms: Sadness, emptiness, irritability, low energy, not enjoying life, loss of appetite, trouble falling (or staying) asleep, wanting to sleep all the time, guilt, worthlessness, feeling like a burden, thinking "My family would be better of without me," considering running away or ending your life, excessive worrying, racing heart, restlessness, shaking, sweating, tingling skin, chest pressure, upsetting thoughts (e.g. imagining hurting your baby,) feeling unusually energized, overconfidence, rapid speech, unusual or unrealistic plans, agitation, racing thoughts, and paranoia.
3) Every woman is at risk, though some more than others There are factors that put some women at higher risk than others. Some of these factors are totally outside of your control (e.g. having a family history of mental illness, being abused as a child, or having a history of infertility or pregnancy loss.) Others, you can try to improve (e.g. your relationship, your social support, your tendency to worry or be perfectionistic.) Regardless, if you notice that you're at higher risk, talk to your doctor about a plan to prevent a PMAD.
4) It may not get better on its own. Many mothers come to me at 7 or 8 months postpartum. They have been feeling bad for months but kept expecting the symptoms to pass on their own. The truth is that an episode of depression or anxiety that begins postpartum can become chronic, lasting for months or years. The good news is that, with treatment, mothers can get better much more quickly.
5) Treatment is safe and helpful. Mothers who pursue treatment get better. However, mothers are often hesitant to pursue treatment, particularly while breastfeeding. It's important to know that here are medications have are considered safe to use while breastfeeding. If you're considering taking a medication while breastfeeding, you can get more information on its safety by calling the Infant Risk Center.
The focus right now is on taking care of your new baby. But don't forget that it's very important to take care of yourself as well. Try to surround yourself with people who support you. When you can, get out and exercise. If you think that you may be feeling more anxious or sad than you should, don't hesitate to ask for help. If you are unsure of where to go, try starting at your OB/GYN office or contact Postpartum Support International to resources in your area.