In the April issue of Glamour, Chrissy Teigen discussed how her postpartum depression has impacted her life as a new mom. “I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody,” she says. “And I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone.” How can you know if you or a woman in your life is dealing with postpartum depression?
First, know this: Postpartum depression isn’t rare. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 9 women are impacted by the condition.
Women tend to be more emotional after childbirth due to fluctuating hormone levels, but there’s a difference between normal postpartum mood changes and actual postpartum depression. Women who are dealing with postpartum depression may experience overwhelming sadness, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and low self-esteem, says Karen Kleiman, L.C.S.W., director of the Postpartum Stress Center, and author of The Art of Holding in Therapy: An Essential Intervention for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. Intense irritability, anger, rage, and acute anxiety and panic attacks, can also be symptoms, as well as feelings of ambivalence about the baby or feeling overly attached. A woman with postpartum depression may cry a lot, lose her appetite, and her ability to concentrate (a loss of appetite signaled to Teigen that something was amiss). “She may experience scary, unwanted intrusive thoughts about harm coming to her baby,” Kleiman says. “She is likely to have difficulty sleeping and she may be suicidal.”
Tamar Gur, M.D., Ph.D., a women’s health expert and reproductive psychiatrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center says that a big red flag is women who isolate themselves. “They don’t want to leave the house, don’t want anyone to come see them—even people they generally get along well with,” she says. Gur says women with postpartum depression often feel that they can’t enjoy anything and nothing makes them happy.
Time is also a factor. Women with “baby blues” (i.e. simply feeling emotional after you give birth) have symptoms that come and go, while Kleiman says that those who have postpartum depression have symptoms that last for more than two weeks—and they have difficulty functioning because of them. Symptoms typically start during pregnancy or within four weeks of the baby’s delivery, but Gur says she has seen it start later than that.
If you suspect that you have postpartum depression, seek help immediately—postpartum depression can get worse with time, says Catherine Birndorf, M.D., founder of The Motherhood Center in New York City and an associate professor of psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College. That can even mean talking to your ob-gyn or your child’s pediatrician, who can do a quick screening for postpartum depression and refer you to a therapist, if needed, Gur says. It’s also important to tell your partner you’re struggling so they can help you seek support, information, and treatment, Kleiman says.
Also, know this: “The new mom did not bring this on herself,” Birndorf explains. “It’s a medical illness, just like diabetes or high blood pressure, and it has to be treated appropriately.” If you don’t get help and treatment, you could suffer from depression for years—and that can impact you and your baby, Birndorf says. And you can start to feel better within a matter of weeks if you seek treatment, she says.
Likewise, if you have a friend that you suspect has postpartum depression, Kleiman says it’s a good idea to let her know that you’re concerned about her in a face-to-face talk—not over text, email, or phone, if possible. “Let her know that you are worried about her,” she says. “That you understand that many women don’t feel good after they have a baby and you want to help her find support so she can get some relief.” It’s also important to just be there for her. “Show up even if your friend doesn’t feel like socializing and do the laundry, cook, or take the older child out, if there is one,” Gur says. “You don’t know what a relief it is to a woman when someone checks in on them and knows them well enough to know that they need help.”
Like many illnesses, there is a range of severity with postpartum depression. Moms with more mild cases may feel better after taking better care of themselves, like exercising, getting outside more often, eating well, and getting more help from others, Kleiman says. Others may find that talk therapy and/or anti-depressants helps them feel like themselves again. (Gur notes that anti-depressants can be safely used during breastfeeding, if you are nursing your baby.)
Asking for help can be hard, but Gur says it’s crucial. “Some of the best moms in the world have struggled with postpartum depression,” she says. “It’s not a reflection on you or your baby. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help, and doing so is the opposite of being a bad mom—it’s being a good mom.”
You’re also not alone. Birndorf says postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth. “It is so important that people recognize that this does not discriminate—it can happen to anyone,” she says.