Have you just had a baby? Are you noticing that something just doesn’t feel right? You have read in magazines about all these celebrities who have just had their babies and instantly fall head over heels in love. But, that hasn’t been your experience at all. Everyone said that you’d be exhausted and emotional during those first weeks after your baby’s arrival but you are starting to panic that having a baby was a big mistake. You are afraid that people will see you as a failure. You feel guilty that your baby has been given you as its mother. You believe that they deserve someone better, more confident and more maternal. You wonder if this is a phase and just the so-called baby blues or something more?
Baby blues is actually quite common. Up to 80% of women will experience the baby blues after the arrival of their baby. Some symptoms may include weepiness or crying for no apparent reason, emotional ups and downs, irritability, fatigue, anxiety and poor concentration. When my son was born, I distinctly remember driving home from his doctor’s appointment when he was about 4 days old and bursting into tears. I had no idea why I was crying but I just couldn’t control it. The baby blues, although unpleasant, tend to go away after 2-3 weeks after birth and are typically caused by hormonal changes and the recovery from the birth process, exhaustion and coming to terms with this huge life transition. All these feelings are incredibly normal.
But, what if these symptoms last longer than 2-3 weeks? How do you know whether you are actually dealing with something more like postpartum depression or anxiety? The two things you need to consider are the duration and the severity of your symptoms. Again, if your symptoms last more than 2-3 weeks and even up to 12 months postpartum then this should be an indicator that you may be experiencing something more serious. If your symptoms begin to impact your daily functioning, your ability to bond with your baby as well as causing you to isolate yourself then this may be an indication that what you are experiencing is not baby blues.
So what do I do now? If you feel that you may be at risk for postpartum depression or anxiety, you are not alone. Both are more common than you think and affect approximately 15% of the population. Please let your healthcare providers (OB, family physician, midwife, social worker) know that you are struggling. They can help find you the supports that you need.
The life transition of having a new baby can bring up a multitude of feelings. Whether it’s your first or third child or whether you've become a new parent through adoption or surrogacy, having a new baby brings new change to you, your relationships and routines. If you find that you are struggling and having a difficult time, please ask for help.
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.