5 Reasons Postpartum Depression Is More Normal Than You Think

Before giving birth to my son, everyone and everything told me to watch out for the red flags of postpartum depression in the first three months. I felt prepared: look for the dramatic and serious emotions, like not wanting to hold my baby, or thoughts of hurting my child, crying all day long, being unable to get out of bed, feeling like a terrible parent—you know, textbook stuff.

But I didn’t experience any of that. I cried a lot, but ultimately survived maternity leave. Eventually I could take walks and get back to yoga, which made me feel more like myself. I returned to work and found an awesome daycare provider. I also had the support of friends and family, as well as an incredible partner, to navigate all these transitions. I was lucky. I had nothing to complain about. However, after a few months, anxiety slowly crept in, which turned into full-fledged depression.

Turns out I’m not alone—postpartum depression and anxiety affects 1 in 7 women. And with more celebrities Chrissy Teigen, Hayden Panettiere, Tamera MowryAdele, (and many more) speaking openly and publicly about their experiences, the stigma of postpartum depression is slowly disappearing. Here are 5 things you need to know about this completely normal condition.

1. It’s More Than “Baby Blues”

I remember thinking one day, “I can’t have postpartum because I only feel down, like, 80% of the time.” (Um. Hello.) But never did I feel the urge to harm myself or my son. Most of my negative thoughts were fleeting, followed my feelings of joy or happiness. I thought it was just a phase, and that I was simply having trouble adjusting to motherhood.

However, depression after giving birth can range in severity and occur within a few days or months later. Symptoms are usually more intense than the so-called “baby blues” of adjustment to life with a little one, and they typically last longer as well. Some common signs of potential postpartum include insomnia, severe mood swings, loss of appetite, withdrawal from people and activities, panic attacks, low concentration, fatigue and anger. (And in some rare instances, life-threatening thoughts or behaviors such as disorientation, obsession, hallucinations or paranoia, which require immediate treatment.)

The bottom line? There’s no qualifying level where depression “counts.” If you don’t feel like yourself, then something is probably up—so talk about it with loved ones and ask for help.

2. Hormones Are Cray Cray

Most of my anxiety centered around the shift to and from breastfeeding, but in general, your hormones go haywire after you give birth. Remembering this fact helped remind me that the emotional and physical aspects of postpartum depression, too, were related to the fact that I grew another human with my body—a major experience that required a great deal of recovery time. There remains a societal expectation that women “bounce back” on all levels from pregnancy, which is unfair in general, but also contributes to the belief that any negative emotions post-baby are controllable.

As Teigen points out in her essay, “Postpartum does not discriminate. I couldn’t control it. And that’s part of the reason it took me so long to speak up: I felt selfish, icky, and weird saying aloud that I’m struggling. Sometimes I still do.” Postpartum depression happens to millions of women, and you can’t predict how your body, mind and spirit will react to the highs and lows of parenthood. Give yourself grace, and know it is not your fault.

3. Dads Are at Risk, Too

Despite increased visibility and awareness for moms struggling with postpartum depression, we often forget that fathers are susceptible, too. No, their bodies don’t go through the wild ride of pregnancy, delivery and healing for months after birth, but a recent study shows more than 4% of new dads experience increased symptoms of depression as well. What does that mean? When you combine a significant life shift, lack of sleep and heightened stress, all parents are at risk for poor mental, physical emotional health.

4. You’re Not a Bad Mother

During my postpartum period, I felt extremely sensitive and defensive all the time, like I was missing a layer of myself for protection. I couldn’t sleep. I had no appetite, no interest in sex and no desire to talk to anyone or go anywhere. Waves of rage, irritability and resentment would wash over me unexpectedly throughout the day, and then I wanted to sob with guilt. Why couldn’t I handle my life, as good as I had it? Why wasn’t I a better wife, employee, friend and mother? I felt like I didn’t deserve to be sad or scared or stressed.

Postpartum depression can lead to feelings of shame or worthlessness, like you’re not good enough to parent your child and your kid would be better off without you. As Teigen points out, it doesn’t help that so many representations of postpartum depression are stories of women harming their babies—which is scary, and encourages mothers to keep quiet for fear of being labeled “crazy” or “bad mothers.” That’s why her story, and thousands of others like it, are so important; they help other mothers going through something similar feel less alone and encourage them to seek treatment.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

It took me months to ask for help, and admit I needed it. Even at the pediatrician’s office, when I filled out the little form that asks if you’ve been feeling down lately, I checked the “no” box. Why? I was embarrassed, and frankly, felt a little silly. I thought I could power through it on my own, which ultimately delayed my recovery, and I wish I had requested help sooner.

For many women, treatment can be as simple as more sleep, exercise and a babysitter once in a while—but it can also involve therapy and antidepressants. No matter what you need to heal, be sure to do what’s right for your body and mind because that’s what’s ultimately best for you, your baby and your family.

If you are experiencing postpartum depression, please seek help from your health care provider or reach out to a close friend or loved one. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of hurting your baby, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-TALK.

  • Alexandra Gill

    I’m the OCD friend. I like a structured schedule, I like to leave a little early because I account for contingency travel, I like to be clean and organized. I have a friend who is completely the opposite, she and I have known each other for 17 years now, since we were three. I can honestly say, that if we were to live together, out friendship would end in flames. I love her, but I could never live with her.

    I’m more of a live by myself kind of person. I like my space to be my sanctuary, and when someone else comes in and disgruntles it, I get very anxious and upset.

    Needless to say, my friend and I had a conversation about it, and she totally agreed. This isn’t as big a deal as a lot of people think! It was a painless conversation. We live across from each other now, which is just as good as living with each other. We are close enough to visit, but we each have our own place to escape to at the end of the day.

  • Vanessa

    Make sure you talk about heating. I’m the kind of person who is always cold and my roommate is the kind of person who is always warm and it causes SO much conflict.

  • I love your insightful articles. I think it can bad idea to move in with a best friend, however, you really have to be like sisters for it to remotely work. I lived with one of my best friends for a month while traveling out of state and there we’re times where I wanted to throw various items at her but at the end of the day through all those chaotic times we’re still best friends. So it could definitely work.

  • Jennifer Volcy

    I personally love living alone, so this wouldn’t be too much of an issue for me. If that were not the case, I would probably just tell my friend that I like my current living situation and I’m not actually looking to change anything. I probably wouldn’t shut down the idea of ever living with that person completely … but I would tell them that for right now, the two of us should just keep things as is.

    http://www.futurelawyergirl.com

  • musical capricorn

    I’ve considered it….but I’ve never done it. Still currently live with my parents, but I I’m looking to get my first apartment next year and I thought I could not afford the expenses all on my own, so I thought about a room mate but after a couple rocky situations this year, I’m feeling like I NEED to to live a by myself.

  • Sophia

    At the time that I was single and living at home, I was very honest with my best friend about moving out and living on my own or with a boyfriend, once my life got to that point of course. Those would be my only two options. Besides, without living together my best friend and I would see each other more often than I would see my own family, who I lived with at the time! She is unlike any friend that I have ever had and I don’t know what I would do without her, but I still like my own space.

  • I have a hard time with roommates. For this reason in particular when I do come to the situation of having to have a roommate, I don’t move in with friends because I would never want to hinder the relationship we have already built.

    I find it easier to move in with people I have just met and to build relationships out of that, whether it becomes a serious friendship or just a roommate situation I feel in the end everything works out better for both people.

    Most of my friends have completely understood when I explain this too them. They get that I value their friendship way too much to risk it by living together.

  • This is a helpful and encouraging article, thank you for shedding light on PPD. However, I would argue that “common” is a better way to describe PPD versus “normal”. I think saying it’s normal comes off a little like it’s just something you deal with versus a mood disorder you should definitely seek help for. (I am a healthcare provider and I specialize in working with pregnant/new mothers so this is a conversation I have with my patients often!) Again thanks for writing this! 🙂

    • Julia

      Ah, yes, that makes sense! Thank you for providing some clarity 🙂

  • So beautiful