The Other Side of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Postpartum depression and anxiety are mood disorders that occur after a woman experiences childbirth. Anyone can experience postpartum depression or anxiety – it does not discriminate based on age or ethnicity. It is a hard disorder to pinpoint because there are several other variables in which people may think are the cause of the sudden change of mood, such as exhaustion and sleep deprivation, lifestyle change, possible issues with breastfeeding, and physical recovery.

That said, around 15% of all women will experience some sort of postpartum depression and/or anxiety shortly after they give birth. Many times the symptoms will be presented within two weeks, but they can sometimes show up later in postpartum – even up to a year afterwards. Some women even experience postpartum depression and/or anxiety symptoms after they stop breastfeeding because of the rapid change in hormones. 

In addition to the several different factors that cause postpartum depression and anxiety, many women may feel ashamed to talk about their symptoms. In a society where motherhood is so celebrated through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, many new (or new again) moms may feel as though they are doing something wrong by acknowledging their true feelings. Some women may push the symptoms aside, claiming exhaustion and lifestyle changes or thinking that it will get better as soon as the baby sleeps/gets older/stops teething. But postpartum depression and/or anxiety goes beyond just run-of-the-mill mood swings. Mothers with this disorder can experience a variety of symptoms but they all have one thing in common – the feelings are more intense, they often do not go away, and they limit one’s ability to carry on with their daily life.

Symptoms: Postpartum Depression

When people hear the term “depression” they often think that someone is just sad. However, depression can manifest itself in many ways, and the spectrum of symptoms for postpartum depression is no different. With a wide variety of symptoms it is often hard for a new mother to realize she is experiencing something more than just the “baby blues.” Some women will chalk these harsh feelings up to exhaustion and stress, and oftentimes these factors can perpetuate the depression symptoms even further. 

In addition to feeling sad and overwhelmed, many mothers experience other symptoms – both physical and emotional. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some of those symptoms may be:

  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Extreme anger or rage
  • Physical aches and pains, including headaches, stomach pains, and muscle pains
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Having trouble forming an emotional attachment with their baby
  • Thinking about harming oneself or the baby

Symptoms: Postpartum Anxiety

In addition to postpartum depression, some women experience postpartum anxiety. Sometimes postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety can go hand-in-hand with new mothers experiencing symptoms from both categories. Many times postpartum anxiety manifests itself in obsessive and compulsive acts or thoughts. Again, many women may attribute these feelings to the stress and exhaustion of having a new baby. But like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety can come any time in the first year after giving birth and/or when one stops breastfeeding.

According to Postpartum Progress, postpartum anxiety symptoms can include but are not limited to:

  • Racing thoughts and an unquiet mind
  • Feeling as though you must be doing something at all times – not being able to relax
  • Having thoughts about things potentially harming the baby
  • Checking things constantly, or doing an action repeatedly a certain number of times
  • Physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and stomach issues
  • Panic attacks

You’re Not Alone

Millions of mothers across the world experience postpartum depression and/or anxiety every day. Many of those mothers feel as if they are the only mother to ever feel this way, therefore making her feel guilty, angry, and resentful. But that couldn’t be further from the truth – if you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and/or anxiety, you are not alone. Here are some stories of other mothers who have gone through the scary stages of new (or new again) motherhood, and have come out on the other side:

“I had our 2nd child. I did the bare minimum and wanted to stay in our room with the curtains closed. Our girls were 2 and a newborn. Then that day came, I snapped. My husband was already gone to work and I watched myself pick our 2 yr old up and place her on the couch (a bit more violent than needed). It was completely an out of body experience. I immediately ran, grabbed my baby, placed her in her car seat, told our 2 yr old to stay by the garage door (I could see her through the window), placed the car seat in the backseat and locked the door. I then called my husband to come home. I began counseling and to hear the words from my husband about my actions and attitude were hurtful. Everything turned out great for me and it really opened my eyes that even the strongest person can be affected.”

“It started with me the last time – but this time my doctor and I already have a plan in place to start medication right after delivery. Happy baby = happy mama.”

“I think the hardest part was telling my mom. So many people look at it as being weak.”

“I was young (22) when I had my daughter. The father of my daughter was pretty nonexistent when she was born, so I was a single mom. I knew I was depressed pretty much from the moment she was born. I knew it had to be more because after six weeks, things got really strange. I had to stop breastfeeding because it wasn’t good for my mind. I was starting to resent my child for needing me so much. I hated everything about being a mom. I would go to Target just to get out of the house and be around people so I would have to act “normal.” When she was around seven weeks old, I started hearing things. I heard voices and my baby crying when she wasn’t even in the house. My mom intervened when she was 3 1/2 months old. She told me to get out of the house for the weekend and get my mind right, so I did. It wasn’t enough though. It wasn’t until a year later that I had a full blown meltdown. I spent a week inpatient and two weeks in intensive outpatient therapy. I was on medication and attended therapy regularly and finally made peace with what had happened. When I got pregnant with my second child, I stayed on my medication and was open and honest with my husband about my PPD. My OB and psychiatrist monitored me and encouraged me to get help if I needed it. It was really helpful to be honest with people about my experience. It was liberating for me when I finally accepted the fact that I didn’t do anything to cause my PPD.”

“I have three children. With my first I thought it was just normal feelings about being a new mom and not getting any sleep. My second cried all.the.time, so I thought my feelings were related to that, plus now having another child to care for. But it was when my third was born that I really spiraled out of control. She is a good baby, my easiest by far, but I couldn’t help feeling like I hated my life. More than once I thought about running away or driving my car off the road. I even thought about how I would manage to have a bad enough accident where I would die but my children would be unharmed. The funny thing is that I didn’t take it out on the baby – I took it out on my older two and my husband. And, logically, I could see how wonderful my life actually was, but those thoughts would get washed away by feelings of Hulk-type rage at the drop of a hat. Finally, my husband and I put two and two together, and we realized that my emotional decline came about the same time I got my copper IUD placed. I got it out the next day, and I can’t even begin to explain how now I can see how my personality had shifted so drastically for those few months. I still struggle with some of my PPD symptoms, but nothing like before.”

“My emotional issues manifested themselves in the form of anxiety – panic attacks, obsessive behavior, compulsions. I had several panic attacks with just me and the kids in the house to the point where I would have to lock myself in our bathroom. I became obsessed with working out, convinced that this was the only thing making myself feel better. I would work out 6 to 7 days per week for at least an hour, all while my kids watched TV. Looking back I can’t believe I didn’t recognize the symptoms as postpartum anxiety.”

Treatment Options

There are two main types of treatment for postpartum depression and/or anxiety: medication and counseling/therapy. Your doctor, specifically your OB-GYN, is the best source of information on how to manage your disorder. Many doctors will recommend a combination of both medication and therapy as the best course of action. As always, we recommend you speak to your doctor if you believe you may have postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

To look for a doctor in your area that specializes in postpartum disorders or for postpartum support groups, click here.

For more information regarding all things postpartum depression and anxiety related, including the six stages of postpartum depression and/or anxiety, click here.

Social media often paints a distorted picture of motherhood – one that is hard to live up to whether you have postpartum depression or not. This pedestal image can make mothers think that the way they are feeling is wrong and shameful. Many women will not disclose their true feelings for fear of being ridiculed, judged, or that their baby will be taken from them. But speaking out about postpartum mood disorders can help break the stigma and let other moms know that they are not alone – postpartum depression and anxiety are real, and there is help out there for everyone.

For more stories about postpartum depression, check out How to Avoid New Baby Burn Out.

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.

Resources: National Institute of Mental Health, Postpartum Progress

Photo credits: Jessica Pankratz, Steven Warren, Eric F. BrandsborgDavid K

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Lauren Lomsdale

Lauren is a full-time mom of three girls and a military spouse. She loves to write, run, yoga-it-out, and keep fit. She runs her own business for busy entrepreneurs to help them manage their business and create their brand at Lauren Lomsdale Creative Studios. She also is one half of the YouTube channel, The Dependas, where the craziness of military life is discussed in a funny way.

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