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‘Baby Blues’ — or Something More? What New Moms Need To Know

Pregnancy and new motherhood can be joyful and unforgettable, but these precious moments also bring a host of challenges that can seem overwhelming. Between getting to know a new human being, midnight feedings, body image issues and a complete overhaul of your schedule, you may feel exhausted and anxious.

Smashing the stigma associated with depression during and after pregnancy is the first step in empowering women to come forward about their struggles. Pregnant women and new moms should be encouraged to talk to their doctors and partners about their feelings.

“Depression is never a sign of weakness,” says Orlando Health Medical Group Behavioral Health. “Asking for help shows strength and courage, especially during a time typically seen as happy.”

Is What You’re Feeling Normal?

Between 10 percent and 20 percent of women will experience depression during pregnancy. And up to 70 percent of new mothers get the “baby blues” — which can include anxiety, irritability, crying outbursts and restlessness in the first weeks after giving birth. While these emotions are common and usually resolve on their own, postpartum depression seriously interferes with daily life, continues for months and usually requires treatment.

So how do you know if what you’re feeling is normal – or cause for concern? Signs of depression during and after pregnancy include:

  • Sadness or depressed mood
  • Crying for “no reason”
  • Shifts in appetite
  • Difficulty maintaining a consistent sleep schedule
  • Increased fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or decision-making (“brain fog”)
  • Lack of interest in the baby or increased anxiousness around the baby
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Fear of harming the baby or oneself

Depression Carries Risks for Mom and Baby

Untreated depression carries physical risks to both mother and child. Obstetrical risks include a higher instance of pre-term labor, higher miscarriage rates and post-delivery complications. 

If a pregnant woman is depressed, she’s also less likely to take good care of her growing baby, which can result in lower birth weight. Self-medication, usually through drugs or alcohol, is also a risk to the unborn.

The postpartum period can be difficult too. New mothers may be affected by medical issues that surfaced during the pregnancy (sleep deprivation), long-term issues (birth control), lifestyle changes (employment) and shifts in dynamics with their spouse, family and friends.

“The months following delivery should be considered a fourth trimester,” says Orlando Health Physician Associates. 

It’s important to develop a positive rapport with your doctor and care team. As you begin your prenatal care, raise any concerns about mood or emotional changes you experience during and after your pregnancy. Strong communication with your OB-GYN remains the most crucial aspect of care.

Taking Care of Yourself

In addition to talking with your doctor, these approaches can help new mothers begin feeling better:

  • Get as much rest as much as you can. Sleep when the baby is sleeping.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask for help.
  • Visit friends or spend time alone with your partner.
  • Share your feelings with your partner, family members and friends.
  • Talk with other mothers to share experiences.
  • Join a support group.
  • Don’t make any major life changes right after giving birth.

Feeling anxious and worried while pregnant or after giving birth are normal. But when feelings of sadness or anxiety disrupt the quality of your life, it’s time to ask your doctor for help. 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. Someone will answer 24 hours a day.

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