What are the ‘baby blues’ and how are they different from postpartum depression?
The ‘baby blues’ happen to a lot of new moms. The combination of a massive drop off of hormones like estrogen after birth, plus the rollercoaster of emotions (not to mention sleep deprivation) a new baby brings leaves some moms in tears. However, the ‘baby blues’ are supposed to dissipate within a few weeks, and not feel overwhelming or long term.
Postnatal or postpartum depression, on the other hand, is more serious. It can start out looking like the baby blues, appearing in the first days and weeks after birth, but it can also manifest up to a year after birth. This makes it hard to identify, diagnose, and treat.
Postpartum depression can also be more than feelings of sadness, fatigue, and irritability. It can include aggression, extreme stress, and sometimes even a feeling of detachment from their baby. Postnatal depression can be crippling for new moms, bringing feelings of guilt and shame to what should be a joyous time.
“I thought I was suffering from the baby blues”, says mom Sarah Kent, “but when the sadness, irritability, insomnia, and high, high stress went on for months, I suspected it was something more. But I’m a pretty high functioning person, and it took me almost three years to get the help — psychotherapy, psychiatry, and medication — that I needed to start feeling normal again.”
How to tackle new mom anxiety
New mom anxiety isn’t confined to postpartum — it can hit before or after having a baby. Yes, that’s right. Maternal — perinatal — anxiety can manifest before you’ve even had your baby! For a lot of women, anxiety starts to manifest during pregnancy, but it’s so rarely talked about that those women often feel isolated and alone in their worries.
There are a few tried and trusted ways to tackle this anxiety:
Learn to identify the feeling: If you’ve never struggled with anxiety or been diagnosed with depression, it can be tough to identify what you are feeling. Sit with your feelings and talk to a loved one if you feel like your emotions are out of whack.
Get professional help if you need it: Many new moms feel like they ‘should’ be able to do it alone. But you know that saying “it takes a village to raise a child’? In our modern world, we often don’t have the village of support that moms of previous generations enjoyed. If you need a nanny, a therapist, or a night nurse — and you can afford it — please don’t feel bad about getting the professional help you need.
Accept help where it’s offered: People want to help you when you’re having a baby. So whether it’s a friend who offers to make dinner or your mom-in-law who offers to do your laundry, don’t feel bad to accept the help. Know that you will offer the same assistance to someone else in the future (or have in the past) and be at peace with it.
Don’t be afraid to take the medication: We take painkillers for a headache, muscle relaxants for a sprain. Mental health can, and often should be treated the same way. Speak to a medical professional you trust and ask as many questions as you need to to feel comfortable. Don’t let stigma or taboo stop you from getting the help you need.
How maternal mental health has changed during the pandemic
It seems as though every part of life has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and perinatal mental health is no different. So many of the ways to get support and help cope with the enormous change of having a baby relies on interaction with other people. And — surprise! — that’s exactly what this pandemic has taken away from us.
Instead of having an army of family and friends rally around new parents, they are left to fend for themselves. However, there are some ways to get the support you need while staying away from the people you love.
Organise a meal train: Meal delivery can be effected in a very socially distanced way, and having the responsibility of dinner taken off your shoulders for a period of weeks or months (if you have a big enough circle!) takes an enormous load off. There are websites and apps that help to organise volunteers, and those that don’t want to or can’t cook for you can order meals to be delivered from local restaurants. It’s a dream come true!
Outsource the laundry: There’s something about new babies that suddenly quadruples the laundry. If you have willing volunteers, organise to farm out your laundry. It can be handed over in a great, socially distant way, and is easy to integrate into your day.
Use technology: So many parents feel isolated and alone during the hard lockdown and the months that have followed. Using technology such as Zoom, FaceTime, and so on, you can take advantage of online lactation consultants, baby yoga classes, or even digital meetups with friends. Even though it’s not face-to-face, it can help to ease the loneliness.
Hire your family: During the early lockdown period, some families ‘hired’ their parents as nannies to come and look after their children and give them a break, or even time to work. Cathryn Reece had her second baby in April, and was able to have her parents help out during South African lockdown level 4 in lieu of having a nanny.
Motherhood, mental health and matrescence
There are huge burdens placed on mothers in modern society. There’s a famous saying that we are supposed to parent like we don’t have a job, and work like we don’t have kids. It’s an impossible situation and one that can cause significant mental hardship.
There’s also the issue of ‘matrescence’. A new term coined by anthropologist, Dana Raphael, it names the process by which women become mothers. There is a fundamental identity and lifestyle shift that many are just not prepared for. We all know about pubescence, the process by which we change from children through teenagehood to adults. The growth of a mother is no less fraught with hormonal shifts, body changes, life, and outlook changes, and so on.
“My emotional turmoil was centred around my shift into motherhood,” says mother of two and successful career woman, Cathryn Reece. “My work is demanding, and my first child was — and still is — extremely high-energy and also demanding. Then I fell pregnant with baby number two, and the smallest things set me off. I decided to seek help from a psychiatrist who specialised in maternal mental health and was diagnosed with PPD, two and a half years after having my first child. I’m now on anti-depressants, and it’s changed my ability to cope with the world. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a world away from where it was.”
The way forward
Becoming a parent can be simple or it can be incredibly complex. Overwhelming love and happiness can co-exist with anxiety and depression. We are multi-faceted human beings with complicated emotions, and there is no shame in feeling whatever it is you are feeling. Growing and raising a person can be hard!
The world is changing more and more each day, never more quickly than now. And if there’s one good thing about this pandemic, it’s that it has highlighted how unsustainable it is to expect anyone to work like they don’t have kids and parent like they don’t have a job. We need to work harder for more balanced, better-supported lives so that we are not all on the brink of emotional collapse.
Disclaimer: this article is not intended to offer professional medical advice. If you suspect you may be experiencing issues related to your mental health, please consult with a professional doctor.
Instagram Live with Shannon & Geneveive from The New Normal: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CC9KrdAJW5w/?igshid=197rhrbgh82sw
Baby Blues Vs Postpartum Depression: How To Tell The Difference: https://www.henryford.com/blog/2019/06/baby-blues-vs-postpartum-depression
New-Mom Anxiety: When To Get Help: https://mom.com/momlife/new-mom-anxiety-when-to-get-help
Anxiety Canad - New Moms: https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/new-moms/
8 Things to Do When You're Overwhelmed as a New Mom: https://www.verywellfamily.com/what-to-do-when-youre-overwhelmed-as-a-new-mom-4164822
'I'm not surviving': This mom shares how lockdown is changing her family: https://www.parent24.com/Family/Parenting/im-not-surviving-this-mom-shares-how-lockdown-is-changing-her-family-20200417
Coronavirus stress adding to postnatal depression, anxiety in new mothers: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/coronavirus-stress-adding-to-postnatal-depression-anxiety-in-new-mothers/articleshow/76479458.cms
Matrescence: The Developmental Transition to Motherhood: https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/motherhood-unfiltered/201904/matrescence-the-developmental-transition-motherhood