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Coping With Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

August 5, 2013 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Postpartum depression and anxiety can happen after a birth or adoption. In fact, 15 to 20 per cent of women who have a baby - and some who've had a miscarriage or stillbirth - will experience it.


In the first few days after giving birth, up to 80 per cent of new mothers experience tearfulness and feelings of distress. This is commonly called the baby blues.

The baby blues can leave you feeling restless, tearful, tired, discouraged, unhappy and helpless. Your moods may suddenly swing from feeling happy, chatty and energetic to being sad and irritable. These mood changes can be due to a number of factors, such as the quick drop of your hormone levels after birth or pain and tiredness from your labour and delivery. They can also stem from looking after your baby for 24 hours a day and not getting enough sleep.

Most of the time these baby blues are temporary, disappearing after one or two weeks. However, some women will go on to have a more serious condition called postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is treatable and should be addressed as early as possible.

Postpartum Depression

Without treatment, postpartum depression will affect both you and your baby. A mother who's depressed for a prolonged period of time can have difficulty bonding with and caring for her baby, and a mother's depression can affect her baby's sense of safety, security and love.

Getting treated for depression will lessen the possible long-term effects on both you and your child. If you suspect postpartum depression, ask your healthcare provider or public health nurse for help. There are many effective treatments and the best help is often a blend of support from healthcare providers, family, friends, self help techniques and community connections.

A number of factors can contribute to postpartum depression, such as financial or relationship worries, violence, abuse, or an unexpected pregnancy. Other contributing factors may include:

  • being a young mother 
  • feeling unsure about your pregnancy
  • difficult life events (death of a loved one or loss of a job)
  • chronic or serious health problems
  • baby with health issues
  • demanding baby
  • challenges of being a new mother

Signs of Postpartum Depression

  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Extreme fatigue 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Uncontrollable crying 
  • Feeling upset or angry over trivial matters
  • Depression or extreme mood swings 
  • Unable to enjoy your baby 
  • Feeling unfit or unable to care for your baby 
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby 
  • Strong feelings of guilt, failure, worthlessness 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Lack of interest in things you usually enjoy

Managing Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is common, and help is available. Tell your health care provider or public health nurse about how you're feeling - they should support your care. Ask your health care provider if there are any local postpartum depression support groups. Other treatments could be individual counseling and, sometimes, medication. If you do use medication, you will probably be able to continue breastfeeding.

Don't be afraid to ask for help from your friends, family, and community. Mothers who've experienced postpartum depression report that having a strong circle of supportive people played a key role in their recovery. If possible, talk to your partner about how you're feeling. You can also speak with other people you trust and who you think will understand your feelings. It is also a good idea to join a support network, such as a mom-baby group, where you can get great advice about the challenges of new motherhood.

Help Yourself - "Self Care Program for Women with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety" was developed by women's health experts at The BC Women’s Hospital Reproductive Mental Health Program. This valuable self-help tool is available to download for free or purchase

Postpartum Anxiety

Once your baby is born, it's normal to worry. We all want to be the best parents to our children and feeling worried from time to time is part of parenting. However, there is an important distinction between worry and extreme anxiety.

Changes caused by a quick drop in your hormone levels after birth, pain and tiredness from your labour and birth, and lack of sleep can result in an anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety and depression are experienced together, but not always, and it can be difficult to figure out if your feelings are related to mood changes after the birth or to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is treatable - if you experience any of the following signs, speak to your health care provider:

  • Depression or extreme sadness
  • Unrealistic or excessive worry
  • Trembling, twitching or feeling shaky
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath or smothering sensations
  • Racing heart
  • Sweating or cold, clammy hands
  • Dizziness or light headedness
  • Feeling agitated or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering 
  • Gas, constipation or diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Being easily startled

Resources & Links:

HealthLink BC: Postpartum Depression
HealthLink BC: Depression During Pregnancy

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