What You Can Do
If you feel like you're flipping out, you are. It's not because you can't handle being a mom — it's pure biochemistry. It will probably pass on its own, although you may not believe it at the time. This feeling may be normal, but you don't have to sit there and wait for it to go away. Take a nap or get some exercise. Sunlight helps, so go outside. Eat regularly and well. (If you're a stay-at-home mom, pack yourself a lunch in the morning before your partner leaves or you may miss lunch altogether.) Drink liquids constantly — you need extra for breastfeeding, and fatigue can be a symptom of dehydration. Ask for help from family or friends. Hire a babysitter for a few hours. If you're falling apart and can't get a break immediately, try breastfeeding for a while — the released hormones may be just enough to relax you.
If you're feeling overemotional, overwhelmed, and possibly depressed, you are not alone. Consider these statistics:
Eighty percent of new mothers experience at least a short-term case of the baby blues.
Ten to fifteen percent of mothers become clinically depressed in the first year after the birth of a child.
Two in 1,000 new mothers develop postpartum psychosis, which goes beyond depression to hallucinations and delusions, and, sometimes, violent behavior.
Baby Blues Checklist
“I see it coming when a mother is constantly tired and crying,” says midwife Jean Rasch. “She isn't enjoying her baby, she hates her husband, and she isn't sleeping. She worries every time she has to deal with the baby — that she didn't get any sleep when he took his last nap; that she won't get any sleep when he takes his next one. And she is really different — chemically different. She is acting other than I know her, than her husband knows her.”
How can you tell if you need more help than your best friend, mother, or babysitter can give you? Signs you may need medical help for your baby blues include:
You can't sleep at night, even when the baby does
Lack of appetite
Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
Lack of enthusiasm for anything
Difficulty making decisions
Constant anxiety about your baby
Recurrent, strong feelings of anger
Recurrent crying, tearfulness
Feelings of hopelessness
Feelings of inadequacy
Panic attacks (shortness of breath, dizziness)
Sleeping too little or too much
Thoughts about harming the baby*
If you are experiencing an increasing number of these symptoms and they intensify with time, make sure you get all the help you need. Tell the people in your life who are most likely to take action to get you some relief. Include at least one relative or close friend and one health care provider, and enlist some support sooner rather than later.
Only one in several hundred women face postpartum problems that require medication, but get help fast if you think you are one of them because the disease can threaten your life — or your baby's life. Severe postpartum reactions may include depression that goes on for days at a time and gets in the way of your life; mania, including hyperactivity, sleeplessness, and extreme irritability; anxiety, characterized by constant worrying or panic attacks, shortness of breath, or dizziness; or psychosis, in which a mother becomes completely out of touch with reality.
When you bring these problems to your health care provider, she will probably refer you to a psychiatrist who will prescribe antianxiety or antidepressant medications. While women may be told to wean their babies from the breast before starting such medications, the wisdom of this is arguable. As information concerning the use of antianxiety and antidepressant drugs while breastfeeding accumulates, this recommendation is changing. If you think weaning at such an emotionally vulnerable time would add to your trauma, it's possible you may not have to. Ask your doctor for the most up-to-date research on the drug he prescribes. This is an individual decision, so try to weigh the options and come up with the best plan for your situation.
Not for Moms Only
The baby blues can strike dads as well. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that 10 percent of new dads are affected by postpartum depression — and the effect can be long term. Researchers found a doubling of the risk of behavioral problems in the children of fathers who had been depressed eight weeks after the birth. It's important to keep in mind that postpartum depression is not a reflection of his love for either you or the baby.
If you believe that the new father is struggling with depression, insist he seek professional help. Women who are depressed tend to appear sad and in despair. Men's symptoms are often an increase in irritability, aggressiveness, and even hostility. The father may be physically withdrawing from any interaction with the baby and offer little support to the mother. He may work longer, watch more sports, and drink alcohol more. Treatment may include both therapy with a trained professional and medication. The earlier the treatment, the better it is for the family.