Postpartum Emotions: What's Typical and When It's Time to Ask for Help

Photo by  Alex Pasarelu  courtesy of Unsplash

Photo by Alex Pasarelu courtesy of Unsplash

I had the honor of originally writing this post for Whole Mother Village.


There is so much confusion about what are typical postpartum feelings and what warrants a conversation with your healthcare provider.  If you try to talk to friends or family, you will likely be given some inaccurate information.  Unfortunately, sometimes even doctors may not recognize the signs of postpartum depression or anxiety.   


So what exactly is the typical postpartum experience?  So many women find themselves questioning this once their baby arrives.  And who do you turn to for answers?  Your mother, friends, doctor, Google, mommy forums?  You will be at no loss for answers anywhere you turn, but unfortunately you may not always get accurate info. 


I hope to clear this up for you now.  As a therapist specializing in maternal mental health, I deal with these questions on a daily basis and have a thorough understanding of the emotional impact of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. 


So let’s start with the first couple of weeks.  The first few days through 2 weeks postpartum, it is very common to experience changes in your mood.  One minute you may be ok, and the next thing you know, you’re crying or snapping at your spouse.  About 80% of women experience these mood swings, commonly referred to as the baby blues.  This is typical for most women and will go away without any intervention by the end of the first couple of weeks.  


After the first few weeks postpartum, the line between typical postpartum adjustment and postpartum mood or anxiety disorder often gets blurred.  This is when your well-intentioned loved ones, or sometimes even your doctor, will tell you things like “you just need some sleep”, “all moms feel that way”, “make more time for yourself.”  While their advice is not entirely off, what usually happens in these conversations is that the opportunity to evaluate what you are experiencing and understand whether it warrants more attention is missed. 


My rule of thumb is any changes that make you uncomfortable enough to start questioning if this is typical, should be evaluated by a therapist specializing in maternal mental health.  You deserve to have the right information, peace of mind, and best support. 


You may be wondering but how do I know if I’m uncomfortable enough?  Isn’t having a new baby all about discomfort in the beginning?  Yes, with a newborn you are going to be extremely tired, moody at times, and questioning what you’re doing.  When mood or behavioral changes have become more of the norm, it’s time to seek help.  Here are some guidelines for you to consider.  If you are experiencing any of these, reach out for help:


•   Persistent mood or behavioral changes: crying, depressed mood, anxiety, sleeping more or less (unrelated to baby waking), appetite changes, anger/irritability


•   Changes get in the way of your everyday life: hard to leave your home, difficulty getting up in the morning, difficulty sleeping even when the baby is, avoiding certain things due to fears, scary thoughts that are hard to stop thinking about, doubting everything you do with the baby 


•   Concern over bonding with baby (not everyone experiences this but it is very distressing for those that do)


•   Feeling guilty, ashamed, or hopeless


•   Scary thoughts of harming coming to the baby or yourself


•   Thoughts of wanting to run away or that your baby would be better off without you


•   Feeling like you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror anymore


If you are struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, know that you are not alone and it is treatable.  The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be feeling better, and the easier it will be to recover.  Therapy has proven to be very effective in treating postpartum depression and anxiety, and for some women, the combination of therapy and medication can be very beneficial.  For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us for an appointment or visit Postpartum Support International.