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Is It Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression or Something Else?

How to Know if Your Daughter or Daughter-in-Law Has Postpartum Depression


Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression causes feelings of isolation.

Photo © David W. Johnson

Your grandchild has just been born, and you are elated, and you assume the baby’s parents are also. So why does the baby’s mother look so sad all the time? If you are a well-informed grandparent, you may suspect postpartum depression, or PPD.

PPD has much in common with garden-variety depression, which can be defined as feelings of sadness, hopelessness or similar emotions, with two important qualifiers: first, these feelings last for an extended period of time, and second, these feelings interfere with ordinary life. The same descriptors apply to PPD. A milder form of PPD, sometimes called “The Baby Blues,” usually does not keep the mother from functioning in a normal manner. Described by one mother as being like "PMS on steroids," even the milder "Baby Blues" can cause a lot of misery.

New mothers are at risk for postpartum depression for a year after giving birth, but it is most likely to occur during the first three months. If you think that your daughter or daughter-in-law has PPD, you must proceed carefully. Begin by analyzing her symptoms. If she exhibits several of these symptoms for a period of more than two weeks, you should suspect PPD.

Margo's Story

I had the baby blues after my first child was born. My mom and mother-in-law were there for one week. After they left, I didn't have much of a support group - just a few people in the church and in my tennis club. I also worked an hour away, so my colleagues weren't very close by.
I went to church for the first time after she was born and cried the whole time. I cried a lot at home and felt very uncertain of myself. My husband seemed so competent and patient with the baby, compared to my incompetence and weepiness. I remember what a struggle it was just to get dressed before noon; that was my goal for myself! Prior to being pregnant, I was up and doing aerobics by 4:30 am each morning, so it was quite a change of routine for me.

Observable Symptoms

Some symptoms you will be able to observe, or her spouse or others close to her will be able to observe. These include:

  • Crying
  • Sleeping very little or far too much
  • Eating far too little or far too much
  • Exhibiting memory problems
  • Withdrawing from social occasions
  • Seeming to take little pleasure in life
  • Being unwilling or unable to make decisions
  • Seeming uninterested in the baby
  • Exhibiting a lack of energy

Secret Symptoms

The new mother will have to confide whether she is experiencing other symptoms, as they will have only slight outward effect. These include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Chest pains or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fear of hurting the baby

Simone's Story*

I felt exhaustion, lethargy, hopelessness, incredible sadness, and guilt for feeling depressed when I had a beautiful healthy baby. I also felt frustration at my son when he wouldn't nap, or wouldn't eat, which in retrospect I recognize as totally normal infant behavior. I'd feel so angry at myself that I couldn't be a better mother to him. I didn't believe my son loved me; I thought I was a bad mother. I loved him intensely and wanted to protect and nurture him, but I had a hard time being in love with him. I remember one occasion when he was only a few months old, he was lying in my lap smiling and cooing at me and I was crying because I just couldn't respond lovingly to him and I didn't know why.

Predisposing Factors

Certain conditions also predispose the new mother to PPD; however, it is important to know that many mothers can have PPD without having any of these predisposing factors. These include:

  • Previous depressive episodes
  • Previous episodes of PPD
  • History of drug abuse
  • Family history of mental problems
  • Young age
  • Problems with marriage
  • Being a single parent
  • Problems with finances
  • Previous miscarriage or loss of an infant
  • Previous difficult birth
  • Infant that has health problems or is extremely fussy

On the other hand, many women have many of the conditions predisposing one to PPD and never have a problem, so it is important to consider the overt symptoms, the hidden symptoms and the predisposing factors together before deciding whether to worry.

Laurie's Story

When my first child was born, we didn't know the sex of the baby, so we were considering names for girls and boys. For a boy, we discussed "Austin." Then we decided we really didn't like it for a boy, but wouldn't it be cool and unusual for a girl? We never did settle on a boy's name, so when our little girl arrived, we named her Austin as we had planned for months.
Well, a few days after we came home from the hospital, I collapsed in tears on my husband's lap. We were sitting on the living room couch, and I was crying and asking "what if she hates me for giving her a boy's name?" My husband, trying to lighten things up, said, "Well, what do you want to do, change her name?" To which I sobbed, "I don't know!" (I was seriously considering it.) That was my first experience with the baby blues. A week or so later I was over it, and just FYI, my daughter is 10 now and so far, has always loved her name.

Although most episodes will resolve themselves, like Laurie's, with no real harm done, grandparents who know what to do or say can alleviate some of the misery that the new mom may be feeling. Some new mothers, on the other hand, will need intervention and treatment.

Read about fathers and postpartum depression.

*Not her real name

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