How to Evaluate the Early Signs of Postpartum Depression November 26, 2012 13:09

 

The room is dark. The clock says 3am. You relish this brief moment of rest. And then, the baby cries again. You cringe, desperately hoping she’ll stop. But the crying gets louder. Your man merely grunts and rolls away from the sound. Suddenly, a wave of emotion hits you in the gut, and your whole body begins to spasm with impending tears. Postpartum depression is real, overwhelming, and terrifying. Here is a brief guide on how to cope with the initial onset of postpartum depression.

When does postpartum depression start, and how long does it last?

Immediately after pregnancy, all women experience hormonal fluctuations. Some women (but not all) experience mood changes as a result of these hormonal shifts, and the mood changes can vary from minor “baby blues” to full postpartum depression. The onset of these symptoms can start within the week after delivery, or they could emerge any time within six weeks. For some, the symptoms might last for a few days. For others, it can last weeks or months.

So it’s important to know that every woman experiences hormonal changes. You are not alone. It’s also important to recognize that the “baby blues” are common for many women (estimates say 50-90% of women experience these minor mood changes), and they will fade away when your hormones stabilize.

It’s also important to be aware of more severe symptoms of postpartum depression, which affects 20-25% of women. Be honest with your doctor and pediatrician about the symptoms you are experiencing, and be open and willing to get help, if needed.

The Early Signs of Postpartum Depression

Women experience a wide variety of mood changes during the postpartum hormonal-adjustment period. Many women feel unhappy, weepy, anxious, and have sudden shifts from happy to sad. More often than not, these feelings come without clear or adequate reasons. Often, the smallest thing can initiate a mood swing. However, some symptoms should be viewed as red-flags, and you should get help immediately.




 How to Know if You’re in Danger

It is important to regularly do a self-check on yourself. Here are some questions to ask:

1. How long has your depression lasted? (Concern: Your depression lasts longer than a week.) 

2. How are you sleeping? (Concern: You have trouble sl

eeping when baby is sleeping.)

3. How is your appetite? (Concern: You have very little interest in food.)

4. How are your interests? (Concern: You have lost interest in yourself and your family.)

5. How is your hope? (Concern: You have very little hope; you only see a bleak future.)

6. How is your confidence? (Concern: You feel helpless, without any control.)

7. How is your desire to press on? (Concern: You have suicidal thoughts or urges.)

8. How do you see your baby? (Concern: You wish the baby had never come.)

9. How am I caring for my baby? (Concern: You are not taking care of the baby; you have thoughts of harming the baby.)

10. How is my mental state? (Concern: You are experiencing weird thoughts, extreme fears, hallucinations, etc.)

If you are experiencing any of these “concern” symptoms, call your doctor and get help immediately. Don’t hesitate. Even if you feel you might be over-exaggerating, it doesn’t hurt to talk to someone. If anything, talking out your symptoms will put your fears to rest. And the good news is that help is just around the corner. There are well trained counselors and doctors who will quickly come to your side and support you through this experience. And often, you might be encouraged to join a mother’s group with women facing the same feelings as you. This kind of support (even if it’s the last thing you thought you’d need) can drastically soothe your feelings of panic and give you the tools and encouragement needed to get through this postpartum period. Help is close at hand. You just have to ask.

 Tips and Tricks to Cope With the Initial Onset

Step One: First recognize and accept your problem. In this case, you are experiencing a form of postpartum depression. As discussed above, you first need to accept that mood changes are normal and common during the postpartum period, and it is due to hormonal changes. Do a self-evaluation (perhaps regularly) to see where you are at in the depression spectrum. If in the danger zone, the first step is to get immediate help.

Step Two: During the postpartum period, you will often think negatively. Unfortunately, negative thoughts fuel negative behaviors and moods. So when you are feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to step back and evaluate your thoughts. Write them down if you can. “I feel like I’m doing everything wrong.” This is a thought. It’s a negative thought. Take a moment to step outside yourself and evaluate this thought. Is it accurate? In most cases, negative thoughts are extreme and overly-critical. If you can, try to come up with a positive thought as a rebuttal. “I may feel like I’m doing everything wrong …BUT, I am showered and dressed, and the baby has a clean diaper. That counts for something.” It may be simple. It may seem ridiculous. It may take time to really believe the statement. But these positive thoughts can and do dampen the fire of your negative emotions.

In Conclusion

All women experience hormonal changes after pregnancy. And 50-90% of women experience a mild case of “baby blues” that can last for a few days or so after delivery. In 20-25% of cases, women experience a more intense hormonal reaction called postpartum depression, which can vary from mild to extreme. It’s important that you regularly do a self-check to see if your symptoms are warning that professional help is needed. If you see these red flags, be quick to ask for assistance. Otherwise, for the day-to-day coping of postpartum depression, you can practice evaluating your thoughts. Positive thoughts can dampen your negative thoughts. And practicing positive “rebuttal” thoughts can pave the way for a greater sense of control and self-validation as you navigate through this (sometimes brutal) postpartum period.