I remember when I was new mom to our eldest child. I would cry a lot, even for the simplest reason — and sometimes, for no reason at all. I would often find myself feeling down, and did not want to see anyone else besides my husband. I would lock myself in our room, focused on our newborn — but at the same time, I would wrestle with thoughts of “breaking free” from the “prison” of being a mother to a little baby who was completely dependent on me.
I did not know it then but I guess those were the signs of my having the “baby blues.” I actually learned about that term, and about postpartum depression, when our child was much older.
So what exactly do we mean when we say a mom has the “baby blues”? And how can we tell the difference between baby blues and the more serious postpartum depression? Our expert, Dr. Lucille Montes — a licensed physician, psychologist and guidance counselor who holds clinic in the Makati and Alabang areas — shares her expert insights on the matter.
Baby blues versus postpartum depression: Definition of terms “The problem with terms like ‘baby blues’ is that it can mean anything to the one using the term,” Dr. Montes says. “The meaning could just be anxiety about the responsibility of having a baby, a sense of loss of freedom, or realization of difficulty or impossibility of pursuing personal plans. Or it could mean depression.”
Dr. Montes goes on to clarify what the term “postpartum depression” means. “It is closer to the diagnostic category of ‘Major Depressive Disorder with Peripartum Onset,’” she explains, citing pages 160 and 186 of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-V).
“Depressive episodes can occur during pregnancy or after delivery,” she continues. “According to the DSM-V, ‘fifty percent of postpartum major depressive episodes actually begin prior to delivery.’ Hence, these mood episodes are termed collectively as peripartum major depressive episodes.”
9 warning signs of postpartum depression Dr. Montes describes the signs of postpartum depression for our reference, basing them on the DSM-V:
“Just like any depressive episode, there must be any 5 of the following symptoms (and #1 or #2 must be present) present, lasting at least 2 weeks :
1. Feeling sad, empty, hopeless 2. Marked diminished pleasure in most activities 3. Insomnia or hypersomnia 4. Psychomotor agitation 5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day (Take note, though, that the tiredness due to nursing and lack of sleep is not counted) 6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive inappropriate guilt 7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness 8. Recurrent thoughts of death and suicidal thoughts 9. Significant weight change (but weight gain due to pregnancy may not be a symptom), or loss of appetite
What to do if you have postpartum depression If you or other moms you know show the signs of postpartum depression, it is best to seek help right away.
“You should consult a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist or a psychologist,” Dr. Montes advises. “Try to overcome the symptoms by identifying and refuting your self-defeating or irrational thoughts, and identifying who could be your social support network, i.e. wise and trusted people you can connect with who will encourage you, allow you to rest by helping you with tasks related to caring for the baby, people who will take time out to visit you or bring you out for some recreational activity, etc.”
Even if there may be times when you don’t feel like being with other people, it is important for you to do so. “Being in touch with others is always better than being withdrawn,” Dr. Montes explains.
It is also crucial that you seek the help and support of those closest to you. “It is a blessing to have a supportive, understanding husband,” Dr. Montes says. “A mother who feels burdened by her new baby or feels overly anxious about the new responsibility must be able to talk about it with her husband.”
“Another blessing is help that may come from the new mom’s own mother or mother-in-law, and sisters. These people are first in line in one’s social support network,” she continues. “A loyal experienced yaya is also a big help in not feeling alone. Sometimes the mom’s own yaya when she was a child is still available and willing to help.”
Helping moms with postpartum depression: What we can do If you know a mom who is showing signs of postpartum depression, Dr. Montes shares some things you can do to help make things better — you can also encourage the people around her to do the same:
1. Help her, don’t blame her. “Do not blame the mom for being depressed. Instead, help her in many ways that will allow her to rest and catch up on sleep.”
2. Encourage her to resume her normal routine. “Help her with getting back to ‘normal life’ — this could include wearing pretty clothes, taking care of her looks overall (going to the salon for a haircut, exercising to improve her figure, etc).”
3. Tell her it’s OK if she needs medication. “Depression often needs medication, so people helping must not have a bias against this form of remedy.”
4. Inspire her to be more spiritual. “The most important of all: help the mother start or strengthen a serious spiritual life that can provide her the deep and joyful meaning of her motherhood.”
Giving birth and taking care of a newborn is already a great challenge in itself, and having postpartum depression will definitely make things more difficult. Let’s do our best then, to educate ourselves and others about it — and to help moms who actually have postpartum depression in whatever way we can.
Do you or anyone you know have the symptoms of postpartum depression? Take courage, and know that you are not alone.