You are not alone: The most common questions (and answers) about postpartum depression
For many new moms, the time during pregnancy and following childbirth is a period of excitement and happiness. However, for a lot of mothers, this period is dominated by intense feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, and irritability. Unfortunately, many new moms are too scared or ashamed to talk about how they are feeling. In an effort to continue to destigmatize maternal mental health, below are some common questions and answers about postpartum anxiety and mood disorders.
Q. Am I the only one who feels sad after giving birth?
A. No. Approximately, 80% of new moms experience the “baby blues” and 15% are diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Q. What is the difference between the “baby blues” and postpartum depression?
A. The “baby blues” is a general term used to describe the feelings of sadness, fatigue, and worry that many moms initially experience after giving birth. These feelings are temporary – typically lasting less than two weeks – and subside without treatment.
On the other hand, postpartum depression is a mood disorder that consists of extreme and constant (at least two weeks) feelings of sadness, anger, or irritability that interfere with a woman’s functioning. Postpartum depression can begin shortly before or up to a year after delivery. However, most women develop symptoms between the first week and month following childbirth.
Q. What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
A. No two women are the same, but some of the most common symptoms may include:
Sad, depressed, or irritable mood
Lack of interest or pleasure in most activities
Decrease or increase in appetite
Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
Fatigue or loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Recurrent thoughts about death or suicide
Withdrawing from loved ones
Difficulty bonding or forming an emotional attachment to the child
Q. What can I do to prevent postpartum depression?
A. There is no single cause of postpartum depression, but there are some risk factors that may put some women at greater risk, including:
A history of a mood disorder or postpartum depression
Family history of mood disorder or mental illness
Medical complications during pregnancy or after delivery, including premature delivery, recurrent miscarriages, or a sick baby
Maternal health problems
Lack of a strong support system and being socially isolated
Substance abuse problems
Q. I am not depressed, but I am having a lot of obsessional thoughts about bad things happening to my baby. What does that mean?
A. Although postpartum depression is most frequently discussed, some mothers also experience postpartum ocd. Postpartum OCD typically consists of unwanted and intrusive thoughts or ideas about intentionally harming one’s baby or harm befalling one’s baby (e.g., thoughts of dropping the baby on his or her head, thoughts of the baby drowning, thoughts of stabbing the baby, and images of dead babies).
Note: New moms with postpartum OCD report that they are terrified of committing harm to their child and would never want to act on their thoughts. In fact, postpartum ocd sufferers are so distressed and scared by these thoughts that they may engage in compulsive rituals to make sure their baby is ok (e.g., constantly checking on the baby at night), avoid their child entirely out of fear that they might act on their unwanted thoughts, or try to dismiss even having the thought.
Q. What’s the best treatment if I think I have postpartum depression or OCD?
First, it’s important that you reach out to a trained mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. From there, therapists, like myself, will typically recommend Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which focuses on identifying and changing negative patterns of thinking, as well as making behavioral changes to reduce distress and improve coping. For moms with postpartum OCD, Exposure Therapy may also be a component of treatment.
Postpartum depression, OCD, and anxiety can feel isolating and insurmountable. However, it’s important to recognize that it’s not your fault AND it is treatable. For more information on maternal mental health, check out the following resources:
 Abramowitz, Jonathan. “New parenthood as a risk factor for the development of obsessional problems.” Behaviour Research and Therapy 45 (2007): 2155-2163.