Welcoming a new baby is usually a time to celebrate, but for as many as four in five mothers it can be a time of distress and uncertainty, commonly called the “baby blues.”

For some new mothers, baby blues do not resolve after two or three weeks, and the result can be a significant postpartum depression (PPD), an often life-altering event. Onset of PPD may be sudden or develop slowly, usually occurring within the first three to nine months following delivery.

PPD is found in all cultures and neighbourhoods—in both new mothers and experienced moms. An estimated one in six women experience depression or anxiety before and/or after giving birth or adopting a child.

Warning signs of PPD may include, but
are not limited to:

• crying for no reason
• inability to sleep or concentrate
• loss of appetite or overeating
• anxiety over baby’s health and safety
• feelings of inadequacy, helplessness,
profound sadness
• mood swings
• inability to care for the baby
• fear of being alone
• feeling overwhelmed and unable to make decisions
• bizarre thoughts or frightening dreams

Feelings of depression or anxiety that persist beyond the third week after the birth deserve attention. At this point, a mom needs to talk to a public health nurse, her doctor, midwife or doula, and tell them how she is feeling.

Julie, 29 years old and a new mom, relocated to a new city. With family and friends far away and a partner working long hours, she doesn’t feel quite herself—a condition she blames on lack of sleep. Baby Joshua is a challenge and often she feels overwhelmed.

Women can experience depression and anxiety for many reasons: postpartum depression can be complicated and multidimensional. For Julie, lack of support, isolation, sleep deprivation and loss of her past life contribute to her feelings. Many moms don’t recognize their depression, or experience guilt for harbouring feelings of resentment towards the baby.

Many myths and mistruths concerning PPD have often delayed women from seeking professional help. These include:

• You can “snap” out of your depression
• Depression will not affect your mothering skills or your baby.
• You won’t recover from postpartum depression.
• Only “weak,” “lazy,” or “bad” mothers get depressed.

• If you are experiencing moderate to severe postpartum depression, you will need treatment.
• Untreated postpartum depression affects your ability to care for yourself and your baby. Babies born to depressed mothers may be more irritable or less attentive than others.
• There is treatment for postpartum depression which makes recovery possible.
• Major depression is a biological illness (chemical imbalance in your brain) that can pass down through your family.

There is Hope – and Women Do Recover
Early identification and understanding the normal adjustment process to becoming a mother is the first step

Some practical suggestions include:

• taking small breaks
• doing good things for yourself
• eating a healthy diet
• daily exercise
• sleeping or resting while baby naps
• developing a support system
• setting small attainable goals
• trying yoga or other relaxation techniques.

Anti-depressants have been found to be effective in the treatment of PPD for some women. There are preferred medications for breastfeeding mothers. Medication can be used in addition to other treatments and is ideally useful in conjunction with counselling or support groups.

While there has been little research on alternative or complementary therapies, omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and bright light therapy have been helpful for some women. Consult with your doctor or midwife if you are taking any kind of herbal remedy.

Public health nurses will be supportive and can offer screening tools to determine whether you have PPD.

Attending a support group can be very helpful, especially if a mom is isolated. Meeting other women in similar situations and sharing can be helpful and supportive. Counselling may help a mom understand her feelings.

For more information about PPD support groups, contact your Public Health Unit (see ad on page 48 of Island Parent).

Other resources include:

The Crisis Line in your community.

BC Mental Health Information Lines offer information and advice 24 hours a day. Phone toll-free 1-800-661- 2121 or visit web link.

BC Reproductive Mental Health Program provides counselling to women with depression in pregnancy and after birth. Visit web link Mental Health

Pacific Postpartum Support Society is a non-profit society dedicated to supporting the needs of postpartum mothers and their families. They also publish “Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Self-Help Guide for Mothers.” Visit web link.

Kenall-Tackett, K.A. Depression in New Mothers, 2nd edition. London Routledge, 2010. Visit web link

Baby’s Best Chance Parents’ Handbook of Pregnancy and Baby Care, 2nd revision, 6th edition. Visit web link.

Maureen Bullen is a public health nurse in Nanaimo who co-facilitates a weekly PPD support group with another councellor.