Depression is the most common complication of childbirth and by far the most difficult to cope with. The information outreach to expectant moms is pretty strong in our culture and most women know—by the time they bring home baby—what the most typical signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are. By month nine, a mom-to-be has skimmed her share of OB waiting room pamphlets, pregnancy books, and online message boards, most of which cover the basic checklist of things to watch out for.
As 4th trimester experts who frequently deal with postpartum depression (and other mood disorders) first hand, Welcome Baby Care doulas have a deeper knowledge of this somewhat temporary but extremely debilitating illness. We thought we’d share some of the lesser-known symptoms found in women who fall somewhere on the postpartum mood disorder spectrum.
Remember, one bad fight with your husband or one restless night of worry does not a diagnosis make. Motherhood is hard for everyone and comes with a fair share of expected bumps and burdens. The difference with an actual disorder is that it is more than a mood or a mood swing. It is a constant, nagging presence and a noticeable shift in lifestyle. Something you can’t shake; something that doesn’t just pass.
Three of the less-obvious symptoms include:
1. Change in the relationship with food. Whether you eat much more or much less than you did in the years leading up to motherhood, both are indicative of a postpartum mood disorder. Loss of appetite or self-medicating with food. If it isn’t your typical self or is an appetite disturbance that is noticeable to others, you probably have some form of postpartum depression or anxiety. This isn’t about a “right” way to eat or judgment over weight or size…this is about a deviation from what is normal for YOU.
2. Subtle disconnect. A disconnect from the baby or spouse is on the list of common symptoms, to be sure, however, sometimes this disconnect presents in subtle ways. For example, a mother might hold her baby constantly but never look down at the child’s face. She might be going through the motions but is constantly on the phone, checking email, or watching television. If a mother refers to her newborn as “it” or “the baby” often rather than using a gender specific pronoun, nickname, endearment, or given name, she is likely disconnected, even if she appears to be parenting like a pro.
3. Self-doubt. Connected to baby but think he deserves better? Madly in love with baby but completely overwhelmed to the point of wanting to run away? Obsessive fretting over post-birth body, relationship with partner, relationship with own mother, relationship with child? Moms are hard on themselves in general, but the complete belief that you are incapable and incompetent is a sign of severe postpartum mood disorder.
These are just a few of the lesser-known symptoms. Depression and anxiety present in many different ways in many different people. This is a spectrum.
Do you just not feel like yourself? Complete transformation is indeed a symptom of motherhood, but this sort of complete loss of self is something different. The nagging feeling that something is wrong, a constant state of discomfort, a hunch that this isn’t just “the new normal” but rather “the not normal.” You may not have classic symptoms, but you have every right to seek help and support if you feel off.