Postpartum Maternal Mental Health: What You Need To Know


Postpartum Maternal Mental Health: What You Need To Know | Duluth Moms Blog

As a mother of four children, I have had postpartum depression after all four births, but to varying degrees. It was worst with my first and last babies, but any degree of depression is difficult to handle, especially while you’re navigating your way through motherhood. Each baby brings its own challenges and joys, and it’s important to know that no woman is exempt from perinatal mood disorders. Every parent is susceptible to them and it’s good to know the differences, the signs, but most importantly, what to do.

Blue is More Than a Color

Having a baby is wonderful, exciting, and great, but the rapid change in hormones soon after is very much the opposite. When I had my first baby everyone told me I had “baby blues”. It often happens in the first couple of days and can last a couple of weeks. You feel huge mood swings, you’re crying (Pampers commercials did me in), have anxiety (did they wash their hands before touching the baby?!), and difficulty sleeping (something we all struggle with). As your hormones slowly go back to normal, and you develop a routine with the baby, you’ll notice the blues start fading away. That’s the best case scenario, but in some cases it isn’t the blues, but something else entirely.

Postpartum Depression

This is the what we hear about the most. Your care provider touches on it, you read about it in parenting magazines, and occasionally we’ll hear of a celebrity sharing their experience. Despite being a popular subject, so many women have it and never seek help because of the stigma around it. After my first child was born, I was afraid to tell anyone how depressed I was, though it was painfully obvious to those around me. I didn’t want my doctor to think I was a bad mom or that I didn’t love my baby. I feared someone would deem me unfit and take away my baby. I already felt inadequate as a new mom and seeing other moms loving their baby and so happy to be a mom was confusing to me. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I didn’t want to hurt my baby but I really didn’t want her. It was awful for a little over a year and I really struggle with knowing I spent her first year being sad.

Postpartum depression is more intense than the baby blues. It may interfere with your ability to care for your baby or even other tasks you’re used to doing. The symptoms can start as early as pregnancy and may continue for years. Classic signs include difficulty bonding, fatigue, loss of energy, feeling withdrawn, irritability or even anger, feeling like you aren’t a good mom, or thoughts of suicide or harming the baby.

Postpartum Psychosis

In some cases postpartum depression is ramped up to a psychosis situation. These early symptoms are sometimes disregarded at first because as a new mom getting very little sleep, the symptoms mimic being utterly exhausted. In the case of psychosis the symptoms continue, or get worse, and you may not even realize it’s happening, so it’s important your family and support system are aware of perinatal mood disorders to get you help. Postpartum psychosis often displays the same symptoms as postpartum depression but also includes confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Postpartum Anxiety

Sometimes confused with depression, postpartum anxiety is its own beast. The anxiety comes on as persistent/excessive worry, hyper alertness or vigilance, inability to relax or sit still. The anxiety can start as early as pregnancy as well, and a lot of women will ignore these symptoms as being a concerned mom but excessive worrying and not being able to do your regular day to day things because you’re so focused on the baby can be concerning.

Postpartum Maternal Mental Health: What You Need To Know | Duluth Moms Blog

Risks, How to Help a Friend, and How to Help Yourself

It’s VERY important to know that having any kind of perinatal mood disorder is NOT a measure of your ability to mother your child. Some research suggests the major drop in hormones, general anxiety of parenthood, and constant sleep deprivation could play a role. Women who have a history of depression (or within the family) may be at a greater risk of developing a mood disorder. Women who also have stressful events (job, finances, health, family) around them as they navigate the postpartum recovery are also at risk. Don’t forget women who had a difficult pregnancy or delivery, but also dads! Did you know men can develop these as well? A really great documentary goes in depth with each of these but also discusses new therapies available is When The Bough Breaks: A Documentary on Postpartum Depression. My doctor suggested this to me after my fourth baby when I really resisted the idea of needing a therapist by telling me to watch it. If any of it sounded familiar, I was to give her a call and she would get the ball rolling for me. Two weeks later and I saw someone for individual counseling for the first time.

What can you do if your friend is displaying any of the symptoms and you’re worried?

  • Ask about her, not the baby. Remember, it isn’t all about the baby, the mom just delivered a human being and that is a big deal. She has just gone through the most difficult task a female body can do and while a miracle, it’s hard work. Women often feel forgotten after baby arrives.
  • Don’t try to fix it with “you’re a great mom…”. She doesn’t feel like a great mom and this isn’t a time that repetition of a statement makes it true.
  • Don’t offer vague help “call me if you need something”. Nobody ever knows what they need and they certainly aren’t going to purposely burden someone with menial requests. Instead, show up with dinner or her favorite drink from Starbucks. Start a load of laundry, do their dishes, put mom in for a much needed nap, bring the next size of diapers and some more wipes. It’s great to check in constantly with her but expect to help out when you’re there.
  • Don’t compare your experience. Nobody who is depressed wants to hear how you were tired too, or your floors were a hot mess so you just rallied and stayed up late cleaning your house. Truly. Every person who walks this path has completely different circumstances and situations so though you’re trying to be helpful you could actually be shaming her. Instead…
  • Validate their feelings. Telling someone that you hear them, you understand them, and you are here to help is everything. Be honest about your concerns for them and be supportive.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of these symptoms or anything that is concerning or worrisome, always speak with a doctor. You may have to be the squeaky wheel and call every day if you have to, but there is help out there. Whether you need medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both, help is available. With all of the pressure we put on ourselves to be Pinterest-worthy moms, it’s important to know none of these conditions make you a bad mom. It’s also important that we rally around new mothers (and fathers) because the work isn’t done once the baby is born.

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Sara Strand
Sara is a stay home mom (not a regular mom, a “cool” mom) of two teenagers and two elementary grade kids, who is always stressed out because one has their driver's license, one is a free spirit, one is fearless, and one is always in the clouds. In her “free time”, she is a book reviewer, dance mom, true crime podcast junkie, Dateline/Keith Morrison fan club devotee, and an Amniotic Fluid Embolism survivor. Always honest and sometimes funny, you can also find her at her blog, Stranded in Chaos (, where she shares good (and not so good) books, tales from mom life, recovery and life after birth trauma, and livin’ la vida loca after 40ish.