Pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period are certainly not easy on the body, nor the mind. Even if you remain calm, cool and collected throughout most of it, the surging hormones and constant bodily changes are bound to cause some fluctuations in mood and mindset.
But when, exactly, do these ups and downs in feelings and moods become something to be concerned about? When do you need to consider that you have postpartum depression (PPD) and start to treat it?
To better understand PPD, BRIDES spoke with expert pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, who is also a child development specialist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine, and inventor of the SNOO, the first responsive bassinet that boosts sleep for babies and parents.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression, also known as PPD, is diagnosed in mothers shortly after the birth of their new baby. It’s a clinical diagnosis that, according to Karp, affects 15% of all new mothers, equal to over 500,000 women each year. Though it often goes undiagnosed and isn’t always discussed, it’s a serious struggle that may begin days, weeks or months after the baby’s birth and range from mild symptoms to debilitating depression and obsessive compulsive anxiety with intruding and unwanted thoughts.
After giving birth, women expect to feel happiness and joy, so if she instead is feeling significant sadness, she may be able to recognize that something is wrong on her own. However, Karp explains, "What often happens for women is that the main sign may be anxiety, difficulty falling asleep and exaggerated concerns about the baby’s fragility and vulnerability. And feeling flat, not joyful.”
How to Diagnose PPD
As soon as you feel that something might be a little (or a lot) off, don’t disregard it as simple lack of sleep or as an adjustment to your new lifestyle. Karp warns, “If you’re feeling anxious or down and are concerned that you may have postpartum mood disorder, speak to your doctor.” A physician can do a simple screening test to evaluate and diagnose PPD; if it’s determined a mother has early depression, they can benefit from psychotherapy and medication.
Additionally, researchers are now studying how to prevent and treat PPD by improving baby sleep, therefore improving mom’s sleep as well. We know—you might be thinking, how the heck does one increase the sleep of a newborn?
Well, Karp says, three things have been shown to increase a baby's sleep: safe swaddling, the right type of white noise, and rhythmic motion.
“We are currently working on a study at UCSD using SNOO – a caring bed that gives babies the rocking motion and rumbly white noise they experience in the womb – to improve baby sleep and reduce a mothers’ feeling of anxiety and depression,” says Karp.
Can You Prevent PPD?
One of the best ways to attempt to prevent PPD is by ensuring you have a support system prior to the birth of the baby, as well as reducing your stress levels. Karp advocates for getting help in both caring for your new baby and yourself, and that even help with cooking and cleaning should be welcomed. Avoid added pressures like entertaining and other social obligations, especially during the first few weeks of adjustment.
These recommendations aside, Karp again stresses the importance of sleep saying, “Above all, anything you can do to get sleep will help you. Many studies show that sleep deprivation is the most common trigger of postpartum depression anxiety.”
Misconceptions About PPD
Unfortunately, like with many other mental health struggles, there are many misconceptions surrounding PPD. Karp explains, “Unfortunately, many mothers don’t really know what PPD feels like. When people hear PPD mentioned, they imagine a mom who is sad and weepy. Yet an even more common way it manifests is with anxiety, irritability and intrusive fears.”
A lesser known fact is that men can also suffer from PPD, which may come as a surprise. “While over 500,000 women in the U.S. suffer from PPD each year, only an estimated 15 percent of them actually receive treatment,” explains Karp.
If you are feeling any signs or symptoms of PPD, reach out to your medical provider immediately. There are ample ways to help and find some assistance, and you’re not alone.