So you just had a baby. Everyone’s congratulating you and expecting you to be over-the-moon excited about this new chapter of your life. And after nine months of waiting and preparing for this baby, you thought you’d be substantially more enthusiastic about the first few weeks with your new baby, too. This is supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life, right?
But you’re just not feeling it. You feel overwhelmed, like you’re not good enough. Breastfeeding isn’t going well. The baby won’t stop crying. You wonder why you ever thought that you could be a good mom, you might even wish you hadn’t made the decision to have a baby in the first place. You can’t sleep, you don’t feel like eating, and you can’t manage to fall asleep no matter how tired you are.
These are all postpartum depression signs. If any of them sound familiar, you might be suffering from postpartum depression.
The bad news is that, according to postpartum depression statistics, it affects anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of new moms. The good news is that means you aren’t alone! Hundreds of thousands of women every year struggle with the same feelings you’re having right now.
It never occurred to me that I might be depressed after I had my babies. As I was doing the research for this post and reading all of these women’s stories about what they went through postpartum, much of it rings true from my own experience. Was I depressed? Maybe, maybe not. It’s possible to experience one or two of these symptoms without having a diagnosable condition. Maybe if I’d had this information after I had my babies, I would have realized what I was going through at the time and sought help so I could have felt better much sooner than I did.
I hope this post can be a starting point, a postpartum depression screening of sorts, for someone else to come to that realization and start their journey towards healing as a result.
Here’s what I learned from over 30 moms who have lived through and overcome postpartum depression:
Postpartum depression is extremely common.
If as many as 20 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression and 4 million women give birth to live babies each year, that means that 800,000 women suffer from the illness every year. Chances are that you know someone else who’s gone through the exact same things you’re going through! So talk to other moms, be open about your struggles. You might be surprised at the support that you find when you’re honest with those around you.
“I was shocked to learn that I was FAR from the only one who was experiencing this, yet I felt so alone. When I started talking to other women about PPD, I felt much less isolated and much more supported.” – Alyssa, A Glass of Goldwater
New moms with postpartum depression sometimes feel scared to be alone with their baby.
Movies, TV and pop culture paint the picture that being maternal comes perfectly naturally to every woman. The truth is that postpartum depression can make you feel inadequate as a mother, and even just the thought of being alone with your baby might cause a lot of anxiety.
Aby says that she was, “horribly afraid of being left alone with [my baby]. I wasn’t afraid that I was going to hurt her, but I was afraid that she would cry and I wouldn’t be able to calm her. I didn’t want her out of my sight, but I didn’t feel capable of taking care of her.” – Aby, One Happy Disaster
“The sadness and anxiety just wouldn’t go away. I was terrified to be alone with her. I refused to go out in public because I was constantly fearful that I would be judged for being a terrible mother.” Amanda, Legally Mommy
The fear that she might do something to hurt her baby paralyzed Julia to the point that her husband had to take over much of the caretaking:
“I became afraid to touch her for fear of what I might do wrong. When my husband got home that night, I told him that I didn’t think it was safe for me to be alone with her, that I just didn’t know what to do and I kept doing everything wrong.” – Julia, featured on Running in Triangles
“I didn’t want to be alone with my daughter. I’d heard so many horror stories of what moms did when suffering from postpartum depression. I didn’t want to be another tragic story. It’s not that I thought I’d harm my daughter but I don’t think those moms did either. I just didn’t want to take the chance.” – Keyona, Professional Momma
Postpartum depression doesn’t always mean you feel sad. You might have an angry depression.
Postpartum depression can present in different ways in different people. Just because you don’t feel depressed doesn’t mean that you can’t be diagnosed with PPD. If you have fits of rage or excessive anger, those can be signs of depression as well and you should seek help!
“I didn’t realize I had it because I wasn’t depressed. I was angry. I didn’t find out until a year or two later that anger and being irritable is a symptom of PPD.” Niki, Toot’s Mom is Tired
“What surprised me is I wasn’t depressed – at first. I was scared and anxious, but not depressed. I developed severe OCD and ended up in outpatient treatment for it.” – Chelsea, Not Your Mama’s OCD
You might not recognize that you’re depressed.
Many mothers suffering from postpartum depression experience symptoms, but don’t realize that there’s a reason they’re feeling the way that they do. It might be from a lack of being educated about the warning signs. It might be that they don’t want to admit they’re struggling with mental health. Or some might be like Stormy, from Pregnant Mama Baby Life, who knew all of the symptoms, but just wasn’t able to identify them in herself:
“I am a nurse. I have cared for many people with psychiatric issues. I am able to spot red flags from a mile away….Yet, despite all this knowledge and support, I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety for months after my baby was born. The biggest kicker. I had no idea.” Stormy, Pregnant Mama Baby Life
“I didn’t even realize how bad it was until after I was coming out of it. (And it was BAD… bad bad bad). Also, it got worse, and started earlier with my second baby.” Rachelle, Mama Writes Reviews
You might find yourself crying all the time.
You might cry because you ran out of eggs or because you noticed a particularly beautiful flower on your stroll around the block. A little bit of crying for no reason in the first two weeks following birth is normal, but if it continues and you just can’t get yourself together and the hopelessness of it all starts to overwhelm you, it’s time to start thinking about getting some help.
“I cried heavy, heaving sobs as [my husband] walked down the hallway [to work], well before the deadbolt slid into place. I cried if I spilled a glass of water or if my coffee got cold. I cried if there were too many dishes. I cried when my cat threw up and I had to clean it. I cried because I was crying.” – Kimberly featured on Scary Mommy
“I spent more nights than I wanted to hunched over her on the couch, trying to get her to latch until the sun came up. I barely ate that first month. Or slept. I just cried and cried. And that sums up the first month of her life.” – Amanda from Legally Mommy
Postpartum Insomnia: You might not be able to sleep.
Insomnia can be a sign of postpartum depression, too. A mother who is emotionally in a good place is tired, but at least she can sleep when she gets the chance. Postpartum depression can rob a new mom of even the precious little sleep she would otherwise be able to get. You can barely keep your eyes open all day, and you think that surely tonight will be the night that you’re tired enough to sleep. But when your head hits the pillow, suddenly you’re wide awake and, like Katherine, you lie there, awake and frustrated, for hours:
“On a good night, I am able to fall asleep around midnight. On a bad night, I’m up till three or four in the morning.” – Katherine, Postpartum Progress
“Even on nights when my son slept all night, I would lay in bed and just cry. It didn’t matter what I did, I could not go to sleep even though my mind and body were utterly exhausted.” – Adrienne, All the While In Style
I experienced this symptom pretty severely after my second baby as well. My mother would come over and offer to let me take a nap, but despite being exhausted, I just couldn’t settle down enough to sleep. If I did fall asleep at night, as soon as the baby woke up that first time to nurse, there was no chance of me getting back to sleep any time soon after that.
Postpartum depression only adds to the mom guilt.
Mom guilt is real, but postpartum depression can make that burden even heavier.
“I had so much guilt around admitting that I was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. I realized that I needed to ask for or find a moment to myself each day.” Anna, Blossoming Motherhood
“All the other moms seemed to love everything about motherhood and all I wanted to do was escape it (just for a little while). Especially after baby #3 I realized how much it was impacting my older children and not having a huge desire to interact with them. I knew I loved my babies, I just got easily overwhelmed and irritable. It wasn’t the “Happily Ever After” I thought it would be.” Amanda, This Growing Home
“It’s a spiral. I felt so guilty for not enjoying the time I was getting with the baby and felt like I was going through the motions. Then I would get really depressed about spending even more time feeling guilty and again, not enjoying the time. The “baby blues” dragged on for months until I got help.” – Denise, Coffee with a Shot of Cynicism
You might find yourself worrying all the time about your baby.
Postpartum depression can cause you to have intrusive thoughts about things that might hurt your baby. This is the symptom that sticks out to me and makes me to wonder if I had undiagnosed postpartum depression. I remember having visions of the baby falling out of her stroller in front of a speeding car or imagining the house catching on fire and not being able to get to her.
Jordan and Elizabeth had similar fears:
“I would have images constantly flash in my mind of my baby drowning while I gave him a bath. I would imagine he suffocated and I would walk in his room every morning and find him dead. At night when I would wake suddenly and didn’t hear a cry I would think he was dead….” – Jordan, featured on Running in Triangles
“What if I accidentally suffocated her with a wrapped blanket? What if we got in a bad car accident and she died? What if I fell down the stairs with her in my arms? You get the idea. It was energy draining trying to distract myself from those intrusive thoughts.” – Elizabeth, Mommy Gone Tropical
“My thoughts would spiral in to this black hole of “what if’s”. My son was born 4 weeks early and I was constantly waiting for something else bad to happen to him. It took 8 months to realize I needed therapy and 3 years and another baby later, it’s still a day by day process of eliminating dark thoughts from my head.” – Kelsey, Motherhood in May
It can hit you when you least expect it.
Postpartum depression doesn’t care if you don’t have a family history of depression. It doesn’t matter if you’re on your 4th baby and never struggled with it before. It doesn’t matter if it’s been 6 months since your had your baby and you thought you were through the worst of it. Any mother, regardless of experience or how much they wanted their baby has the potential to struggle with postpartum depression.
“I’ve been through it with each birth, and how quietly it snuck up on me after baby #3 was most surprising. In a flash I went from thinking I had it all under control (I didn’t) to telling myself I should probably shower and wash my hair before I took my life. I had completely rationalized why suicide was the best option. I’m so grateful that my husband was prepared and saw the warning signs. He acted quickly, and I was able to get the help I needed, but it was a scary time.” Tiffany, Mom Goes Mental
“Even though I’m a therapist and knew what to look for, it still snuck up on me. But I was most surprised at how much sleep – or lack of sleep – affected my symptoms. It’s how I became so passionate about helping other mothers.” Jennifer, Mommy-SOS
“It kicked in months after I had my baby. He was born in July but the PPD didn’t kick in full force until October.” – Maureen, Wisconsin Mommy
“That it can happen at any time. I didn’t have it with baby 1 and baby 2 but it hit me hard with baby #3.” – Samantha, Delivering Self Love
“Even though we had IVF and paid for our ‘special babies’ didn’t mean I was exempt from PPD. It hit me all the same and made me feel so worthless. Having an online group to talk to made me feel less alone!” – Zoe, My Little Wildlings
Other people may not understand what you’re going through.
Unless those around you are educated about postpartum depression, its symptoms and the effects that it can have on your life, it’s likely that they won’t understand how serious your condition is or how to help you. Jenn R. of This Mommy Is Real had this to say about her postpartum depression:
“It was really difficult when people called it a “phase” or “just the baby blues”. I know they meant well, but this is the time when the mother is so vulnerable, so statements like that feel dismissive. Sometimes it seemed as if what I felt was not important or trivial.” (Featured on Ask Me Anything, Real Mom Recs)
“How everyone thought sleep and some time away from the baby would resolve everything and make the depression go away. It just made me feel alone and like no one could relate.” Angelica, The Peachee Pear
“I was a mess. A HOT MESS. And everyone around me just thought it was ‘new mom stress‘” – KC gfreefoodie.com
But there are other moms out there who do understand and help you through postpartum depression.
“It surprised me how much of a difference it made to talk about. Just telling other people that I was struggling had a HUGE impact on my healing.” – Emily, Journey of Parenthood
“[My mom friends] helped me overcome more than they could ever imagine. Each member had a role to play in helping me become the mother I am today. They helped me realize I’m not alone in this motherhood journey.” – Amelia, Mama Bear Reviews
“Honestly, I was surprised that so many women that I knew had it, but most of them didn’t talk about it until after the fact. I talked about my struggles with so many people, I’m surprised people weren’t sick of hearing about it. Its actually one of a few motivators in starting my biz- helping women to reclaim their joy and reconnect to their inner strength and intuition.” – Rachel, Soul Pioneer
You can overcome postpartum depression.
Right now it feels like these feelings are here to stay at that you have no hope of ever going back to the person you used to be. Take heart! Millions of women have overcome postpartum depression, and that can be your story too. Find help, get therapy, ask for support from friends and family, take medicine, whatever it is that you need to be you again. You won’t regret it.
“Surviving PPD does not define me or how much how love my child. It makes me a fighter. It makes me more able to seek help. It makes me okay with vulnerability. It makes me love even harder.” – Tierney, I’m a Horrible Mom and You Are Too
“This took me a long time to realise, but your little bundle that you carried for 9 months and went through all of that hell to bring into the world thinks YOU are the most amazing woman on earth.” Sarah, MummyKind
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Melinda worked with children for years in a professional setting before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. She currently has three young children, and enjoys sharing tips and ideas about parenting and how to manage a home with excellence. She’s been featured on Heathline and Her View From Home.