Emotions of Motherhood

Becoming a mother can be an exciting time and a life changing experience. Many mothers may feel overwhelmed by a blend of physical, hormonal, and emotional changes while learning new tasks and skills of motherhood. These changes range from the “baby blues” to a spectrum of feelings known as “postpartum mood disorders." 

80 percent of mothers worldwide experience the “baby blues” the first couple of weeks following childbirth.  This is so common it is considered “normal." The baby blues is NOT a postpartum mood disorder.

What are the "Baby Blues?" 

“Baby blues” begin the first few days and up to two weeks after birth. Moms may feel very sad or tearful for no reason. They may also feel restless, cranky, sad, discouraged, or helpless. These feelings may be due to hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and the stress of being a mother to a new baby.  

“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was so excited about having my baby. All of a sudden I would burst into tears. Others asked me what was wrong, and I didn’t know! All I could do was cry.”

The baby blues often go away when mothers eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, receive emotional support, and have others help with tasks at home. After the first two weeks mom may still feel tired, but may feel much more like herself.

If you just had a baby and these feelings don’t go away after two weeks, or get worse, you may have a postpartum mood disorder.

What are postpartum mood disorders?

Mothers may experience strong emotional changes and feelings following birth that are beyond the “baby blues." These feelings involve physical, emotional, and hormonal changes that affect your moods, behaviors and how you feel. Symptoms can begin after giving birth or anytime during the first year. They can be mild, moderate, or severe.

These spectrum's of feelings are called “postpartum mood disorders."  Postpartum mood disorders are one of the most common complications of childbirth.

This is a real disorder that can happen to any mother.  

  • You did not do anything to cause these feelings 
  • It is not your fault and does not make you a bad mother
  • It is treatable

With proper help, mood disorders are 100 percent treatable. However, without treatment, symptoms may last weeks, months or even years.  The earlier help is begun, the easier it will be to recover and the better the outcome for both mom and baby.

What are the various types of postpartum mood disorders?

The most common postpartum mood disorder is Postpartum Depression (PPD).  About 1 out of 5 mothers get postpartum depression. Women with postpartum depression and other mood disorders may describe feeling:

  • Irritable
  • Tired 
  • Guilty, worthless or helpless
  • Restless or out of control
  • Hopeless
  • Depressed or sad with or without tears
  • Anxious or overwhelmed
  • Worried that nothing will get any better

They also may describe:

  • Having little appetite or over eating
  • Being unable to fall asleep or waking up too early
  • Feeling unable or unwilling to care for baby
  • Thinking about bad things that could happen to the baby
  • Feelings of harming herself or her baby
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Not caring about anything
  • Trouble remembering even simple things
  • Unexplained pains or headaches
  • Being unable to cope with daily tasks
  • Repeated thoughts, ideas or images that are uncontrollable or cause her to feel anxious, guilty or shameful

Do postpartum mood disorders affect my baby?

Yes. Postpartum mood disorders can affect your baby. They are serious illnesses which, if not treated, can have long term effects for both baby and mother.  

Depressed mothers may not interact with their baby as much as mothers who are not depressed. The baby of a constantly depressed mother may not form a secure bond to their mother. A poor baby-mother bond can put children at risk of learning delays, relationship dysfunctions, trouble expressing emotions and future mental health disorders.   

Mothers who are depressed are not always able to handle the tasks of being a mom. They may be able to provide basic care, like food and shelter. However, depressed mothers may only respond to fussing and crying, while ignoring positive actions like smiling. Babies are aware of how their mother feels.

Women whose PPD is not treated may go on to develop a chronic mental illness. If a mother with PPD has psychotic symptoms, she may be at risk of hurting herself or her baby.

Does having postpartum depression mean I want to hurt my baby or me?

One severe type of postpartum mood disorder is called “postpartum psychosis." This is NOT the same as postpartum depression. Postpartum psychosis is very rare (affects 1-2 in 1,000 women). Postpartum psychosis can have a sudden start often in the first days or weeks after birth.  

Women with psychosis may hurt themselves or their babies. Take this seriously.

Women may say things like, “You would be better off without me.”  
She may:

  • be quiet or have a very strong lack of hope 
  • want to be alone
  • unable to sleep for a couple of days 
  • do or say strange things   
  • talk about suicide or harming the baby  
  • hear voices or see things that are not really there
Note: If a mother feels she may harm herself or her baby, do not leave her alone or alone with the baby for any reason. This is an emergency. Take her to the Emergency Room or call 911.

What do I do if I think I have postpartum depression?

Ask for help. Contact your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. They can help you. Tests may be done to rule out medical problems. There are no lab tests for postpartum depression.

“I had several risk factors for postpartum mood disorders, and I was aware of the signs. I’m so glad my partner and I were aware of what to watch for and know where to get help if I needed it.”

You are not alone.

There are others who can help you get through this tough time and help you to feel better as soon as possible. The sooner you get proper help, the easier it will be to get well. Having you feel better is best for both you and your baby.  

What kind of help is available?

There are three ways to get help: support, medication, and therapy. Some moms find one way is enough, some use two, and some use all three forms of help.

Adjusting to Motherhood - Anxiety & Postpartum Support  – This is a casual group for you and your baby. The weekly topics and activities are focused on moms. Share your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experiences. This non-judgmental group can provide emotional comfort and support, guidance, and encouragement. Screening for postpartum depression is done at each weekly meeting. This group meets on Wednesdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the lower level of the Center for Women’s and Children’s Health.  You may bring your baby up to one year of age. No pre-registration is necessary. This is a FREE service.  For more information, call (319) 369-7580.

“I felt overwhelmed by the changes that happened after I was home with my baby. The support group helped me realize many new moms feel this way. After attending for a few weeks, I feel so much better.”

Counseling or Therapy – Call your insurance carrier to see what counseling services are covered.  Some companies have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that provides free counseling. St. Luke’s offers Family Counseling Services.  

Please call (319) 369-7952 for more information. Please see other resources listed below.
“I just didn’t feel like me. It helped knowing that with proper help I will feel a lot more like myself again.”

Medication – Some medications (antidepressants) can be safely taken if you are breastfeeding. Contact your health care provider or lactation consultant (319) 369-8944 for more information.  

“I was so relieved that there were medications I could take while breastfeeding. I’m feeling so much better and am more able to interact and enjoy my baby.”

What can I do to help myself?

  • Make time to sleep or rest both day and night
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Attend the Adjusting to Motherhood - Anxiety & Postpartum Support Group
  • Make time for yourself
  • Set realistic goals for yourself
  • Keep all healthcare appointments
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help with household chores or errands 
  • Talk to your health care provider about how you are feeling

Can dads get postpartum depression?

New research is showing that up to 10 percent of men suffer depression following the birth of their baby.  In fact, up to 50 percent of men with a partner who is suffering from postpartum depression are depressed as well. Men with a history of depression are more likely to be effected.  

It is normal for dads to experience an emotional roller coaster of extreme joys and unbelievable stress after a baby is born. There will be many sleepless nights which can make it hard to cope. Many dads think about being financially responsible and physically protective of their new family. The new routines and responsibilities can feel overwhelming. Being a new dad can mimic signs of depression:

  • Depression or sad mood
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Everyone experiences some of these symptoms after a baby is born. However, if these symptoms don’t go away over time, or they get worse, dad could also be experiencing postpartum depression. For more information for dads, talk to your health care provider and go to:

How can family and friends help?

  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders
  • Help moms and dads get the help they need and deserve
  • Provide emotional support
  • Help with daily chores at home
  • Prepare meals and healthy snacks
  • Call for help if the new parent is not able to call

Note: If a mother feels she may harm herself or her baby, do not leave her alone or alone with the baby for any reason. This is an emergency. Take her to the Emergency Room or call 911.

Remember …

You are not alone.
You are not to blame.
We are here to help.

Resources:

  • Adjusting to Motherhood - Anxiety & Postpartum Support Group Wednesdays, 4 to 5:30 pm, lower level of the Center for Women’s and Children’s Health.  Call (319) 369-7580 for more information.
  • Foundation II Crisis Hotline: (319) 362-2174
  • Healthy Families Line 1-800-369-2229
  • Iowa Concerns Hotline 1-800-447-1985
  • MY NURSE 1-800-IA-HEALTH 1-800-424-3258
  • Postpartum Support International (PSI)  Warm line 1-800-944-4773 or www.postpartum.net 
  • St. Luke’s Emergency Room:  (319) 369-7105
  • Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK   (800-273-8255)
  • University of Iowa Women’s Wellness & Counseling Service (319) 353-1898

County Mental Health Resources:

  • Benton County:  Abbe Center for Community Health (319) 472-5226    
  • Cedar County: Mid-Eastern Iowa Community Mental Health 1-800-697-3165        
  • Iowa Concerns Hotline 1-800-447-1985
  • Johnson County: Mid-Eastern Iowa  Community Mental Health 1-800-697-3165    
  • Jones County:  Abbe Center for Community Health (319) 398-3562    
  • Linn County:  Abbe Center for Community Health (319) 398-3562    

Bibliography:

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG),
You and Your Baby, Prenatal Care, Labor and Delivery, and Postpartum Care, Education Pamphlet AB003.

A Guide to Postpartum Depression & Treatment Options, Women’s
BC Women’s Hospital & Health Services Authority, http://www.bcwomens.ca

Onunaku, Ngozi, MA, Improving Maternal and Infant Mental Health: Focus on Maternal Depression, July 2005, Zero to Three.

Postpartum Depression:  The Basics, STEP-PPD, www.STEP.com

Postpartum Support International (PSI), www.postpartum.net

U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, New AHRQ Report Finds Depression is Prevalent in Women during Pregnancy but Often
Goes Undetected, Press Release, May 5, 2006.

Zieman, Gayle, PhD., Postpartum Depression, Women’s Health Advisor, Clinical Reference Systems 2008, www.nursingconsult.com

11/14/12 DAO