- Evelyn Aizenberg Psy.D, LMFT
So you have had a baby, but rather than feeling elated and excited, you find yourself feeling anxious, sad and overwhelmed? These feelings, in and of themselves, might make you feel guilty and inadequate. You might be wondering what is wrong with you, and are you really fit to be a mother?
These experiences are more common than you think. Research shows that about 15% of new mothers may experience significant mood adjustment issues during their baby's first year.
The “baby blues” is a temporary phase often within the first few weeks after birth, when the new mom may feel weepy, overwhelmed, and anxious. This emotional roller coaster of moods usually passes without treatment by about two to three weeks after delivery.
Postpartum Depression or Anxiety are mood disorders which may occur at any time during a baby's first year and are typically more intense in experience. They tend to interfere with daily functioning and generally do not improve on their own without an intervention.
Signs of depression can often be discounted as typical “new mom” fatigue. Signs of depression can include exhaustion, changes in sleeping pattern, difficulty thinking clearly or making decisions, feeling detached or emotionally flat, feeling hopeless as if things will never get better, or having thoughts that others would be better off without you. Some women think about harming themselves or their babies. Depression is a serious illness, and there is help available to feel better. Other common postpartum mood disorders include anxiety and panic disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Anxiety may feel like a constant state of dread or worry. OCD is often described as unwelcome or intrusive thoughts or behaviors that one knows are unreasonable, but are still unable to control. Sometimes those suffering with anxiety or OCD feel that their mind is racing or that they are unable to sleep, rest, or relax. Others may have unavoidable, irrational fears, and may be afraid to be left alone with the baby.
If goes untreated, depression can have a life long lasting effect on both mother and baby. Research shows that babies of depressed mothers are at risk for developing insecure attachment, negative affect and dysregulated attention and arousal. Toddlers and preschoolers of depressed mothers are at risk for developing poor self-control, internalizing and externalizing problems, and difficulties in cognitive functioning and in social interactions with parents and peers. And school-age and adolescent children of depressed parents are at risk for impaired adaptive functioning and psychopathology, including conduct disorders, affective disorders and anxiety disorders. They are also at risk for ADHD and learning disabilities.