Many mothers who have just had a mountaintop experience in the delivery room are often dismayed to find themselves in a dark, turbulent, emotional valley during the first weeks after their babies are born. Between 50 percent and 60 percent of women have a temporary emotional slump commonly known as baby blues, while 5 percent to 10 percent of women suffer from a more severe disturbance known as postpartum depression. A less common — but more severe — disturbance known as postpartum psychosis occurs after about one in 1,000 deliveries.
When one considers all the intense physical and psychological changes that accompany the birth of a baby, it is surprising that storm clouds aren't part of every mother's emotional weather after childbirth.
Personal and family issues that can affect emotions include:
Baby blues, the most common mood problem related to childbirth, usually develops during the first week after delivery. Symptoms include irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, insomnia, lack of energy, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating. This emotional and physical slump typically resolves itself within two weeks. However, it should not be met with an attitude of "ignore it and it will go away." Support and reassurance from husband, family and friends are important. In addition, help with the baby, housekeeping and other practical details can make a difference.
Postpartum depression (PDD) is a more serious condition, though many of its symptoms are similar to those of baby blues. Not only does it last longer, but its impact on both mother and baby is more profound. A mother with PPD may be so depressed that she has difficulty caring for her baby, or she may develop extreme and unrealistic anxiety over the infant's health. Furthermore, ongoing disruption of mother-child interactions can adversely affect the infant's long-term development.
PPD can begin at any time during the first six months after childbirth. While two out of three mothers recover within one year, this problem should not be left to run its course. Like a major depression occurring at any other time in life, PPD is not a situation in which a little "attitude adjustment" is all that is needed. If symptoms such as those listed above continue for more than two weeks, seek professional help.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious disorder in which a woman experiences not only a disturbance in mood but also a break with reality. At some time during the first month after delivery, she may become confused and experience hallucinations and delusions. She may even consider harming herself or her baby. A woman who develops postpartum psychosis must be evaluated immediately by a qualified psychiatrist, though it might be difficult to convince her that this is necessary. This condition can and should be treated with appropriate medication. There is, however, a 1 in 7 chance that it will recur with a subsequent pregnancy.
It is important to note that postpartum depression and psychosis can occur without warning. A woman's mood during her pregnancy does not necessarily predict how she will feel after the baby comes home. However, if a woman has a history of depression or other significant emotional problems, or if these problems have occurred in her immediate family, those close to her should be alert for signs of turbulence during the days and weeks following childbirth. A mother who has suffered postpartum psychosis in the past must be observed carefully for signs of recurrence after future deliveries. If you have additional questions about postpartum depression or feel you need to talk with someone in more detail, contact your physician.
It seems like the crying, rocking, feeding, walking-the-floor insanity is going to last forever.
"Baby Boot Camp" aptly describes life with a newborn. New moms are often flustered and bewildered during those early days with a baby. Besides having a body that's getting back to normal, postpartum mothers must deal with fluctuating hormones, extreme fatigue and roller-coaster emotions.
This wasn't what you signed up for! When you bring your baby home from the hospital, however, the rigors of basic training begin. Here are five ways to stay balanced when a new baby rocks your world.
Ever since my daughter was born, I've referred to her as my "dream baby." From day one, she ate when she was supposed to eat, burped when she was supposed to burp and slept when she was supposed to sleep. By 6 weeks old, she was already sleeping through the night. I was so proud.
One day I met another child, five months older than mine, who was still waking several times each night. "I'm glad I don't have that baby," I said. "His parents must be delirious from lack of sleep."
Shortly afterward, however, I spent time with another family whose baby was already crawling. He was nearly two months younger than my daughter. I wonder why my baby isn't crawling yet, I thought. Is she slow in developing? Is something wrong?
It's normal for parents to be proud of their child's smallest accomplishments. Even during pregnancy, I beamed with pride when the doctor said my child was healthy and strong. But as a first-time parent, I also felt unsure of myself and began to look at other families to see if I was doing things correctly.
Before long I noticed my daughter was healthier than other children. She was pleasant-natured and fussed much less than others. I also found that although she slept well, she didn't sleep as long as her cousin. And I was slightly disappointed that she didn't crawl as early as my friend's baby.
Soon, my observations evolved into a passive-aggressive competition. I began constantly comparing my daughter — her clothing, diet, how much she drooled — to the kids around us. Nothing escaped my attention. The very accomplishments on which I prided myself began to eat away at my thoughts, morphing into endless comparisons. I no longer simply adored my child; I had to prove why she was adorable.
I'm not the first parent to experience this impulse. Even Isaac and Rebekah compared their twin boys, Jacob and Esau. Each preferred one over the other — a competition that led to deceit and bitter strife. Similarly, when Jacob had children, his preference for Joseph made his other sons jealous, spawning hatred, lies and plans for murder.
Comparison pits child against child, parent against child, and parent against parent. If my child sees me comparing her to others, she'll probably learn to do it herself. I dread the thought of my daughter treating others with contempt because she thinks she's better than they are. I've seen teens grow up to live double lives, desperately avoiding the scrutiny of a parent to whom they could never measure up. I've witnessed the destruction that petty competition can inflict on friendships, families and marriages.
At times I feel I am fighting a hopeless battle. Even though I cry out for God to rid my heart of this ugly habit, I still catch myself making comparisons. But God has helped me understand something that gives me hope: I am not perfect, nor can my children ever be perfect, but Jesus is. Ironically, this comparison between Christ's perfection and my inadequacy doesn't make me feel miserable. Instead, the more time I spend looking at Him, the more I become like Him. I feel secure knowing that He loves me in spite of my faults and never criticizes me when I fall short.
My hope is that as I grow more into His image, I can relay that security to my daughter. I want her value to come from Him, not from tallying her accomplishments next to someone else's. I want her to rejoice in who she is, not stress over who she isn't.
Old habits die hard, and I may struggle with the urge to compare for the rest of my life. I just need to remember that my job as a parent goes beyond shuttling my daughter through a set of developmental milestones. Parenting success does not come by comparing my child's achievements, but by introducing her to an incomparable God.