Dear Dr. Yael,
I gave birth a little over a year ago and, even though it was not my first child, I felt differently this time around. I have always been a happy-go-lucky person, but after having this baby I could not seem to return to my previous self. I was moody, short-tempered and gloomy. While some of these symptoms could have been chalked up to normal baby blues, they persisted and I was becoming scared.
I tried to tell myself that everything would be okay and that I just needed more sleep. This was partially true, but even when I got more sleep I didn’t feel like myself. After struggling for a few months, I decided to seek outside help. I was told that I was suffering from postpartum depression. This shocked me, as depression sounded serious. But I felt better knowing that there was a name for how I felt.
Since my depression was not severe (I was able to function and was not suicidal), I opted to try therapy and undergo an exercise regimen. Additionally, I made sure to get more sleep and not let myself become overwhelmed. In short, I learned to ask for help when I needed it.
I slowly began to heal and started seeing parts of myself return. With time, I no longer needed therapy. I still try to maintain my exercise routine and yes, I splurge more often on extra help than I formerly did because these things seem to help me keep my sanity.
Many women feel that they must be superwomen. I simply wish to tell them that while their feelings are understandable, they are not always realistic. If they have unusual feelings after giving birth, they should not think that those thoughts are just going to go away. Of course we all have bad days, but constant gloomy feelings are not normal – and no one should have to suffer in that way.
Please help others understand that postpartum depression is neither a death sentence nor an embarrassment. We all have things we need to work on, and if a new mother is feeling this way, she needs to seek help.
Thank you for your honest and important letter. Many people suffer from postpartum depression. And yes, there is a fine line between baby blues and postpartum depression. Baby blues (e.g. feeling mildly depressed and experiencing mood swings) after having a baby is extremely common, and most women experience these feelings. Symptoms include moodiness, sadness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, appetite changes and concentration problems. Baby-blues symptoms usually become evident a few days after giving birth and could last from several days to a few weeks. But sometimes the abovementioned symptoms are more severe and could last significantly longer than a few weeks. This is when, as you described above, it is time to seek outside assistance.
Here are some symptoms of postpartum depression:
· Lack of interest in your baby
· Negative feelings toward your baby
· Worrying about hurting your baby
· Lack of concern for yourself
· Loss of pleasure
· Lack of energy and motivation
· Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
· Changes in appetite or weight
· Sleeping more or less than usual
· Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Dear readers, if you are feeling suicidal or have significant negative feelings towards your baby, you need to seek medical help immediately. Certain anti-depressants can help alleviate these symptoms and can be used in conjunction with therapy, exercise, sleeping, and having some time for yourself, in order to conquer the depression. Please do not try to help yourself on your own if you are feeling these symptoms, as you are at risk of hurting yourself or your baby. I know that many people see depression as a weakness and an embarrassment, but it is not something you can control.
If you had strep throat, would you tell yourself to stop being so childish and instead pull yourself together? Would you be embarrassed to talk about antibiotics because other people will think less of you as a person? Of course not! Regardless of what some may think, mental health works the same way. If you are suffering from neurological or hormonal changes that are severely affecting your mood and functioning abilities, you need to take the necessary steps to get better.
Like you, some individuals can recover with therapy, exercise, sleep, and extra help around the home. This will help prevent them from being overwhelmed by all the tasks that a newborn brings, especially if there are other children to take care of as well. Exercise is paramount, as it helps your body produce endorphins, a chemical that triggers positive feelings in your body – which can create a positive and revitalizing attitude on life.
Many people reading this may think, “Great, but when do I have time to exercise?” This is the point when getting extra help is extremely valuable. If you can afford extra cleaning and babysitting help, now is the time to get it. Use the time to sleep, exercise, enjoy your own company, attend therapy for support, or bond with your older children. All of these activities will help you feel better and will begin the healing process. If you cannot afford the extra help, try to get a young girl to assist you or call the local high schools for information about girls who are willing to do chesed. But please, do not deny yourself help because you are embarrassed. Ultimately, you will feel much better if you make the effort to allow yourself the time that is needed to improve your situation.
The people who think that only crazy people go for therapy are absolutely wrong. Most therapy seekers are normal, functioning individuals who need some help in one or more aspects of their lives. Therapy can give individuals the needed support and can help them use their strengths to overcome their hurdles. Thank you again for your great insight and sensitivity. Hatzlachah!
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