10 – 20% of women experience postpartum depression (PPD). PPD should not be confused with “baby blues” which also presents similarly, but symptoms are milder and usually resolve after 14 days.

I had not left the house except for the baby’s doctor’s appointments and honestly did not want to be bothered by anyone, including friends. I was easily angered, and whoever was in my path would be the receiver of my negative attitude. I felt that I was failing at this motherhood thing and questioned everything I did. Something was wrong, and my emotions were out of control. It was not until I broke down crying at my pediatrician’s office that I truly realized something was up. At my child’s 4-week appointment, her doctor had me fill out a screening survey called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Screen. I failed miserably.

The only question I think I answered definitively was about me ever having thoughts about killing myself. I said no, and what happened next was interesting. My child’s doctor asked me If I thought I had postpartum depression. She knew she didn’t need to beat around the bush with me. I’m a doctor, so she did not have to explain much. I should know if I have it and I should know where to get help if it was the case, right? Since I screen patients for depression and suicidal ideation all the time in the ER, there was no need for her to go into detail. I let her know I had been a little down, but I that I was okay. She said alright, and we moved on to address my child’s needs. We spent a total of 2 minutes discussing me. At my 6-week OB appointment, my doctor asked me if I was doing well, and I said, “Yes, just the normal emotions… I think.” I am not sure I filled out a depression screen, but If I did It was not addressed. I had my physical exam and was discharged.

Maybe about 7 – 8 weeks postpartum, I finally realized I had a significant problem and needed help. I was, starting to have some uncomfortable thoughts. I reached out to a few colleagues for support, and they pointed me to some resources. The signs were pretty obvious at this point. I finally emailed my OB for help and was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

10 – 20% of women experience postpartum depression (PPD). PPD should not be confused with “baby blues,” which also present similarly, but symptoms are milder and usually resolve after 14 days.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • sadness
  • hopelessness
  • irritability
  • lack of sleep or oversleeping
  • lack of appetite or overeating
  • lack of interest
  • anger
  • mood swings

Prevention

Sometimes there is no real way to prevent PPD, but these things can help reduce the risk:

  • Start the conversation early. Talk to your health care provider, talk to your partner.
  • Fortify your support system.
  • Exercise and relax.
  • Learn how to take time for yourself. Motherhood can be a full-time job, and learning balance now can save you after childbirth. So, go ahead and get those nails done.

Treatment

Call your doctor

Most doctors’ offices should be screening women for post-partum depression; however, some may not be. Contact your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms. Your doctor will screen you, and you both can discuss treatment options.

Medication

Medications are okay, and many women need them to get through their depression.

Find a therapist

If your OB/GYN does not have any recommendations, your work HR department should have contact information. Also, ask some friends for references or use Google for assistance.

Find a support group

You are not alone. Many women go through what you are going through. Most hospitals and birth centers have resources on support groups. The online community has many support groups, as well.

Outsource

Get help with household chores, such as cooking, if possible. You want to limit your stress load. You may also ask a friend to come to the house and watch your baby while you do some self-care.

Seek help immediately if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your child.

You can call 911, go to the nearest ER, or call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Depression

Depression can lead to lack of sleep, yet lack of sleep can also worsen postpartum depression according to a study in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing. Easier said than done. Sleeping when the baby sleeps is excellent advice that I’ve heard. I learned this far too late.

Self-preservation is important

o Try not to consume yourself with baby 24/7. Take time for yourself. Take a walk. Get your nails done. Hang out with friends.

Once I came to terms with my diagnosis, then and only then could I start the healing process. What I realize is mothers need just as much attention as babies. It may not come from the people around you but do yourself a favor and prioritize yourself and your mental health. I promise you; you will not regret it. You are not the first person to suffer from PPD; many people have. Adele talked about her experience in Vanity Fair:

“I had really bad postpartum depression after I had my son, and it frightened me … But also, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was very reluctant. … I knew I could sit there and chat absolute mush with friends who had children, and we wouldn’t judge each other…One day I said to a friend, ‘I f***n’ hate this,’ and she just burst into tears and said, ‘I f***n’ hate this, too.’ And it was done. It lifted.”

I guarantee you, someone else is in your shoes. Talking about it is the first step to healing

Dr. Phindile Erika Chowa, MD