Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on February 4, 2022
Being a new mother is both an exciting and scary time. If you’re feeling a bit scared and anxious — don’t worry. You’re not alone. In fact, it’s common to have the baby blues for the first couple of weeks after you give birth.
But what happens if those feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear continue after that? It’s possible you may be suffering from postpartum depression. This is a form of depression that happens exclusively in new mothers, due to sudden hormonal changes, lack of sleep, adjustment to this new life phase, and many other factors. If you think you might be suffering from this condition, check out this list of common signs to see if they sound familiar.
1. Your Baby Blues Aren’t Getting Better
After giving birth, your body undergoes significant hormonal changes. Throughout pregnancy, your body will have produced large amounts of two hormones: progesterone and estrogen. These hormones help to make your uterus a hospitable place for the baby, but through some intricate mechanisms, they also impact mood: after you give birth, your progesterone and estrogen levels drop abruptly which can contribute to moodiness.
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Dopamine and serotonin are two neurotransmitters that help brain cells communicate with each other. In particular, they’re vital for feelings of well-being and mood regulation. After you give birth, your progesterone and estrogen levels drop abruptly.
Meanwhile, two other hormones — oxytocin (which helps your uterus to contract back to its original size, as well as in the development of that important baby/mom bond) and prolactin (the hormone responsible for lactation) — increase. The result is you’ll probably feel wildly unbalanced, possibly going from incredibly sad to mad to happy at the drop of a hat.
For most mothers, all these hormones eventually balance out, and your baby blues fade away a few weeks postpartum. But for mothers with postpartum depression, you’ll find that your changes in mood aren’t getting better. In fact, you may feel even more hopeless or sad than you did before. You might find yourself crying regularly or feeling like you don’t want to be a mother at all.
2. You Doubt Your Abilities as a Mother and Are Having Trouble Bonding
It’s common for all new mothers to have some period of doubt about their capabilities. They might worry about doing things right and making sure their baby is well taken care of.
However, if you have postpartum depression, you might be afraid that you’ll be a terrible mother. This doubt will consume you, making you feel like you aren’t worthy or that you’re putting the baby in danger. In most cases, these fears and doubts aren’t true, but it is hard to reason with anxious or depressive thoughts.
Sometimes, you might not feel bonded with your baby at all. Some mothers describe having a baby as love at first sight, but not everyone has an instant connection with their new child. For many, their child might still feel foreign and new. Most mothers are able to get over this after some time with their baby, but if this feeling lasts for several weeks, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing postpartum depression.
3. You’re Having Trouble Sleeping and You Have No Energy
First things first — with a newborn in your house, it’s normal to not get enough sleep. You’ll likely be up every few hours to breastfeed or change diapers, even if you have a partner helping out.
However, when you finally do get the chance to sleep, sometimes you may struggle to do so. Unfortunately, it appears the relationship between sleep and postpartum depression is bidirectional, meaning that they can be causes of each other.
Postpartum changes in your hormone levels can disrupt your sleep schedule, making it harder to nod off when you finally have the chance to relax. However, when you don’t get enough sleep over a long period of time, this can lower the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps you feel happy and regulates your mood. Without enough serotonin, you’ll start to feel down and have even more trouble sleeping.
Overall, this can be a tricky symptom to notice, especially if you’re up all night caring for your child. But it’s important to keep an eye out for it because getting enough sleep is crucial for your overall well-being.
4. You’re Having Harmful Thoughts
Any time you’re having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming your baby, please get help right away. This can be a sign of untreated severe postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or postpartum psychosis, which can represent a clinical emergency. It’s important to see a medical professional as soon as possible for your well being and that of your child.
But if you don’t, it’s important to think about both your and your baby’s future. Harming yourself or your baby could have drastic consequences for both of you. Even if it seems like things will never get better, trust us — they will.
How to Treat Postpartum Depression
Do the above signs sound like something you’ve been experiencing? If so, it’s possible to get treatment for your symptoms so you can feel better. A medical professional will likely recommend both antidepressants and therapy.
Antidepressants can help restore levels of serotonin in your brain. This should alleviate your symptoms and help you find a balance. And in therapy, you’ll talk about your emotional issues with a mental health professional. They’ll be able to help you find ways to solve your problems and set realistic goals for your new journey in motherhood.
With the proper combination of treatments, you should start feeling better and enjoying your newborn more. However, to find this relief, you’ll first need to speak with a qualified medical professional. That way, you can get the proper diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan for your needs.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes.