Research shows that nationally, about 1 in 7 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. After sitting down with Mental Health Specialist Hannah McMullen, LCSW for an interview on better understanding postpartum depression, I beg to differ. I believe WAY more than 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression. Being someone who has battled depression both before and after having a child, I have a deep passion for understanding this topic and helping bring awareness in hopes to encourage others to seek the help they need. 

To take care of yourself is to take care of your family. I truly believe that with every ounce of my being. In today’s blog, I want to share my interview with Hannah McMullen, with you. Hannah is a specialist in the field of counseling people that are battling depression and anxiety. I hope that through this blog you will have a better grasp of what postpartum depression is, the signs, who is most at risk, when it commonly occurs, how to be proactive, and when to seek help. Let’s begin. 

What is postpartum depression? 

Postpartum depression is having a Major Depressive Disorder that was onset either during pregnancy or in the 4 weeks following delivery. Between 3-6% of women will experience the onset of a major depressive episode during pregnancy or the weeks or months following delivery. Postpartum depression is depression that is triggered by the changes that come with pregnancy and having a child. 

What are the signs of postpartum depression? 

When categorizing whether or not you are experiencing postpartum depression/depression (Major Depressive Disorder), Hannah and others alike are looking for 5 of the 9 symptoms listed below. Before you begin reading the list below, think about how all of these symptoms could pertain to pregnant women or women who just gave birth. 

  1. Depressed mood most of the day
  2. Loss of interest or pleasure- social activities or withdrawal, showering/hygiene, exercise, get nails done, yoga, dishes, laundry, calling friends.  
  3. Weight loss OR weight gain- decrease or increase in appetite
  4. Insomnia- difficulty falling or staying asleep OR hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness)
  5. Feelings of agitation or restlessness or being slowed down
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive inappropriate guilt- “Mom Guilt”
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness – “Mom Brain”
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death – can be about self or baby

The interesting part about this list is that it’s not focused on postpartum depression specifically but rather Major Depressive Disorder in general. Becoming pregnant and/or giving birth is life-changing for women. It rocks our world. To say that a woman would naturally have at least 5 of these symptoms from the life-changing effects of becoming pregnant and giving birth is legitimate. Understanding these signs/symptoms of depression gives us a better understanding of what depression can look like. Oftentimes people just think of depression as sadness or “baby blues”. It can be way more than just feeling sad.

Is there a certain time after delivering that you are more likely to experience symptoms of postpartum depression? 

Hannah’s answer, “Yes! Surprisingly though, HALF of all postpartum depression cases begin DURING pregnancy. The other half can occur 4 weeks after delivery up to 12 months which means the whole first year you need to be checking in on yourself!” This was so interesting to me. I didn’t realize that HALF of the women that experience postpartum depression experience it while pregnant. I was also surprised to see that postpartum depression can onset at late as 12 months after giving birth. This makes me wonder why we only have ONE postpartum checkup 6 weeks after delivery. Hannah also stated, “I’m convinced that if postpartum depression sets in beyond three months there is a good chance lack of sleep is playing a big role!”

How common is postpartum depression?

It is found that 1 out of 7 women experience some sort of postpartum mood disorder. That can be during pregnancy or within the first year after delivery. I truly believe that it’s more than that. The lack of awareness in how long postpartum depression can set in is why I believe studies have found only 1 out of 7. Not saying that number is not significant because it is, I just believe it’s more. I think we as women oftentimes downplay our feelings to take care of our children, and we put our mental, physical and spiritual health on the back burner. But momma, you are important and you need to take care of yourself! Listen to your body!!! 

Are there certain mothers that are more at risk for experiencing postpartum depression?

A woman is more likely to experience postpartum depression if she has:

  • A personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or postpartum depression
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD or PMS)
  • Inadequate support in caring for the baby
  • Financial stress
  • Marital stress
  • Complications in pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
  • A major recent life event: loss, house move, job loss
  • Mothers of multiples
  • Mothers whose infants are in Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU)
  • Mothers who’ve gone through infertility treatments
  • Women with a thyroid imbalance
  • Women with any form of diabetes (type 1, type 2, or gestational)

When is the best time to seek help? 

This is the burning question. When to seek help. I feel like so often we wait TOO LONG. We brush off the feelings and we keep trucking along. From my own experience, I remember thinking in my head, “I’m good. I don’t need to seek help. I can handle this on my own.” And “If I seek out help it means my problems become real.” That voice only lasts so long, momma, until one day you find yourself hit rock bottom. When I finally reached out for help and had my first counseling session with Hannah, I immediately wished I had done it sooner. 

As far as timing goes Hannah says, “Getting help right away is never a bad idea! Sometimes we have a hard time assessing how we are doing objectively because we are in the thick of it. Taking a step back and checking in with a partner or close friend about what you’re experiencing can help you see if you are struggling with depression. Know those symptoms and check yourself- if you have 4 or 5; get help! Sometimes diagnosing takes time so find the things you can work to improve like sleep (work with Taylor!), food intake (be intentional), hormonal balancing (vitamin D, Fish Oil). 

Can sleep play a role? How? 

Hannah says, “ABSOLUTELY! Sleep is one of the symptoms of MDD and influences several others!”. 

Sleep and depression go hand-in-hand. If you are lacking sleep (getting less than 6-7 hours of sleep each night) and are battling postpartum depression, gaining sleep is going to do A LOT of good. Sleep is HEALING! Your brain and your body are not able to recover and heal from the prior day without sleep. It doesn’t mean sleep is the answer to beating PPD, but it’s defiantly not going to hurt to get that rest that your body needs.

Or you may be like me where you are getting sleep (baby sleeps great), but you still battle PPD or MDD. Most times, I do believe that a mother is struggling with PPD due to a lack of sleep. Or would be able to work through her PPD better with the right amount of rest.

What are ways you can help prevent postpartum depression? How can you be proactive?

This was Hannahs expert advice and I couldn’t agree more!

  • Get help! Work with a therapist to help you process the changes that have occurred through pregnancy and childbirth.
  •  Work with other specialists who can help your specific needs (lactation consultant, sleep coach, chiropractor, health coach, PCP)
  • Connect with other moms! Online groups, older women who have survived this phase and can encourage/support you. 
  • Take breaks from the baby. It’s stressful! Find a trusted friend or relative that can keep your precious baby even if for an hour. 
  • Give yourself GRACE. Remember one of those symptoms is feelings of worthlessness and guilt. So often we compare ourselves to others or judge ourselves against our expectations of what we think we should be doing. Try to extend grace to yourself the way you would a close friend. You can’t do it all!
  • Be mindful of physical practices that help people with depression including exercise and nutrition. 

Yes, yes, and yes to all of this! 

Like the title says, “Be aware so you can be proactive.” This blog was not meant to scare you, but rather bring awareness to a topic that I feel gets brushed under the rug. Understanding postpartum depression, the signs/ symptoms, when you are most likely to experience symptoms, and when to seek help is all about being proactive in taking care of yourself. I know your baby is your world. I get it. But don’t get so lost in your baby that you forget about taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself IS taking care of your baby. If you need help, Hannah’s contact information is down below. Reach out to her to set up reoccurring therapy sessions to work through your PPD. It is a game-changer. Don’t wait! Also, if you are struggling with sleep, please reach out to me so we can schedule a free consult. You can not run on an empty tank, momma. Changes can be made. Gently! 

Professionally reviewed by Mental Health Specialist Hannah McMullen, LCSW.

To reach out to Hannah please feel free to contact her through her facebook or instagram platforms listed below. She is currently booked right now but can point you into the right direction if you are seeking help!