Did you have a happy Mother’s Day this year? Or did you spend that Sunday feeling blue? There are multiple reasons why some people find Mother’s Day less than happy (their own mothers were absent or abusive, they feel guilty about relationship mistakes with their mothers or children, they want to become mothers and can’t), but one common reason for being unhappy with motherhood (at any time of year) is maternal depression.
“Baby Blues” or Maternal Depression?
It’s not surprising that a majority of women experience “down” feelings during pregnancy and especially in the first week after giving birth. The hormonal changes and the labor/delivery are stressful enough in themselves: factor in the demands of lifestyle changes, plus fear for a helpless newborn, and you have a situation that would exhaust almost anyone into a record-breaking bad mood. But with about 13 percent of mothers, postpartum depression goes beyond “baby blues”: rather than dissipating after a week or two, it drags on indefinitely. If not treated, it can cause serious long-term problems for mother, child, and the rest of the family.
You’re more vulnerable if you’re inexperienced with parenting or there’s a lot of additional stress in your life. Or if you (or anyone in your family) have a medical history of depression and/or drug abuse. But whatever your risk factors, you likely have postpartum depression if several of the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks after your baby’s birth:
- Crying for little or no reason
- Proneness to unreasonable anxiety or anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Neglecting self-care and favorite activities
- Struggling to bond with your baby
- Feeling like a terrible mother, and perhaps deficient in all areas of life
- Thoughts of hurting the baby
- Wanting to die
Especially if you’re fantasizing about hurting yourself or anyone else, seek prompt mental health treatment for any suspected case of maternal depression.
Depression during pregnancy gets less attention than the postpartum version, but may be even more dangerous. It tempts a woman to neglect self-care when both she and her unborn child need her to be in the best possible condition. Worse, she may turn to drinking or other drug use to numb the emotional pain—and unborn children with drug-abusing mothers are at extremely high risk for permanent impairment of physical and mental facilities.
Since moods typically go up and down throughout a pregnancy, symptoms of depression may be difficult to distinguish from ordinary hormonal effects. However, if you’re troubled by discouragement or apathy for more than two weeks, talk to your obstetrician about possible causes. If you have any thoughts of hurting yourself, aborting the pregnancy, or simply “giving up,” talk to a therapist as well.
What to Do About Maternal Depression
Real depression is a medical illness and requires professional treatment. However, there are ways to minimize your risk of developing maternal depression, and to help optimize your recovery if it happens:
If you’re already being treated for depression when you learn of a pregnancy, make a coping plan with the help of your therapist and obstetrician. If you’re taking antidepressant medication, ask first thing about possible risks, but don’t just stop the medication on your own.
Take special care of yourself. Eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and cut back on any stressful or extra-busy activities. Don’t feel guilty for not being able to keep up your former pace. Think of how your baby will benefit, before and after birth, from having a healthy, unstressed mother.
Watch your expectations, positive and negative. Taking it for granted that everything will be perfect or “by the book” (believe us, it won’t) sets you up for discouragement. “Just knowing” it will be painful/miserable/unlucky invites a self-fulfilling prophecy. First-time mothers are especially prone to unrealistic expectations, so consider “adopting” a couple of experienced mothers to mentor you through the ups and downs.
Build a support network. People with depression and at risk of depression tend to withdraw from others, which is the worst thing to do. The human species is naturally interdependent, especially when someone has medical needs or stress issues. So don’t brush off your partner, your neighbor, or your own mother when they offer to help with the chores and the baby—or to let you cry on their shoulders. It takes a “village” not only to raise a child, but to help raise a mother (or anyone else) out of depression.
Help for You and Your Family
At Lakeside-Milam, we understand depression and other mental health issues. We also know that such illnesses often co-occur with substance use disorders—and that pregnancy or new motherhood is the worst possible time for an addiction relapse. If you’re suffering from maternal depression and especially if it’s tempting you to return to the “self-medicating” habit, we can help. Contact us today for guidance toward the best possible future for you and your child.