Having a child, be it through birth or adoption, can be a wonderful and exciting experience for parents. But sometimes it is not so wonderful, your baby might have colic and won’t stop crying, your toddlers are constantly fighting, the house is always being torn apart, or you might even be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. Experiencing these issues can be emotionally distressing, and you are not alone in feeling that way. I would also like to say that I recognize that some people who experience postpartum depression and other issues associated with childbirth and parenting may not identify as female. If this applies to you, please know your identity is valid and you deserve respect. As a heads up, this blog will sometimes be using terms like “mother” and “women” because there is currently not much data about how many people who don’t identify as female give birth and experience these things. While I am not a mother myself, everything I write here today is based on knowledge gathered from my research, speaking with and reading stories from actual mothers, and what I have learned about mental health issues during my education.
Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
“Baby blues” is the worried and/or sad feelings that come with having a new baby. 1Though it is similar to postpartum depression, baby blues pass after a short time, usually a few days, and don’t need a lot of external intervention to resolve.1 Postpartum depression is much more severe in feeling and duration than baby blues. According to the CDC, one out of ten women experience symptoms of depression, and one in eight experience postpartum depression.1
Signs You May Have Postpartum Depression1 (for symptoms of depression, see our post about depression)
- Feeling angry or crying more often
- Withdrawing from loved ones
- Not feeling connected to your baby
- Feeling scared you may hurt the baby
- Feelings of guilt about being a good parent
- Feeling unprepared or unable to care for the baby properly
Risk Factors to be Aware of 1
- Lack of support
- Stressful life events
- Family or personal history of depression
- Having twins, triplets, etc.
- Having a baby who is in the NICU or otherwise ill
- Being a young/teen parent
- Birth complications
- Delivering preterm (before 37 weeks)
Another thing to be mindful of is how you consume social media. A study was performed examining how social media relates to social envy.2 Even if you’re not actively absorbing all of the picture perfect family moments your friends are posting on facebook, the study found that even passive viewing caused feelings of envy and decreased life satisfaction.2 The US is also not currently the best at supporting people who have given birth, there is no current mandate stating you must provide paid maternity leave, and only recently have some states started including paid parental leave, such as Washington D.C. in 2020, and Oregon (but only effective starting in 2022-2023).3 Many other countries around the world have social programs to help new parents who have given birth, including paid maternity leave. In the US, 1 in 4 women return to work only ten days after giving birth.3
Having one, or several, risk factors for depression is not the end of the world, and neither is having postpartum depression. These issues are treatable.4 CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is particularly effective against depression because it attacks unhealthy behavior and thought patterns. Medication can also be effective, but you should consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding to see if it is a good treatment option for you.4 Don’t ignore your symptoms.
Things You Can do to Care for Yourself
Remember that even though you’re now responsible for a child, you still deserve to care for yourself.
- In moments of stress when the baby won’t stop crying, take a break. If you have an infant, you can put them in their crib where they will be safe, or pass them to your partner, relative, or friend, and walk away for ten minutes. They will be safe, and you can have a glass of water, a snack, or take a short nap. Needing to take a break does not make you a bad parent, and looking after your own needs is not selfish.
- Do something just for you. Play a round of your favorite game, go see a movie by yourself, or take a nap while someone else watches the baby.5
- Socialize with others. Building connections with others and utilizing your external support system will help you relieve some of your stress. It’s good to have time with other adults.5
- Try a calming meditation. Services like Headspace, Calm, and Simple Habit, have a wide variety of meditations on relevant topics like sleep, mindfulness, overcoming anxiety, and deep breathing exercise. Many of them are short, and do not require hours of your time, so you can fit them into a busy schedule. There are also many calming mediations available for free online.
- Take a shower or bath.5 Between all the late night feedings and diaper changes, you may not consider showering a priority. But taking a shower or bath can help serve as a reset and put you in a more relaxed state of mind.
- Ask for help!5 The number one thing I read and heard over and over in my research is that it’s okay to ask for help. You don’t have to do it all alone. Seeking help from your partner, friends, family, or external specialized support groups does not mean you are a bad parent. It is better to ask for help when you realize you need it than to try and bear it.
If you can’t do some of these things because you are truly overwhelmed and do not have time to engage in self care, that’s alright. Some days will be like that. But if you’re having more overwhelming days than not, you should reach out to a mental health professional who has experience working with parents such as yourself. You are not a bad parent for having negative emotions or depression while caring for your children. You deserve treatment and rest, even if your life is very busy or if you have many obligations. Remember to make your mental health a priority.
This article was written by Caroline Sebren, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina and current volunteer writer for Carolina Assessment Services, LLC. Caroline is pursuing a degree in Marriage and Family Counseling at UofSC in hopes to pursue work in the future as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
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