When Your Bundle of Joy Brings a Bundle of Blues: Understanding Perinatal Depression

Sarahbeth Eriksen, MD.

“Is it just me?”

“Why can I not get it together?”

These thoughts plague many women throughout the journey of motherhood. In fact, if you can honestly say you have never had them, we need to have lunch! I want to know what you put in your coffee.

Thoughts of discouragement and even despair are common struggles for new mothers. For some, they come and go as quickly as the piles of laundry we create. For others, they linger. You may try to put them out of your mind, but like the onesie with a poop stain you forgot about, they are really hard to remove.

Many of us are familiar with the term, “baby blues.” They are common, affecting as many as 80 percent of mothers in the postpartum period. Symptoms like mood swings, irritability, crying for no reason, insomnia, anger and anxiety may come and go and can last for as long as three weeks. Typically, they resolve without any treatment or intervention. Women who experience more intense feelings that do not resolve are at risk for perinatal depression. I use the term perinatal, meaning “around the time of birth,” rather than postpartum, because many times depression and other mood disturbances begin during pregnancy and either continue or worsen in the postpartum period.

Many triggers can cause a woman to develop perinatal depression.  One major contributor is the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and then again at the time of delivery. This time of life is also characterized by great fatigue and potentially personal pressure to “do everything right” or “be the best mom.” Life events such as a recent death or lack of family support can bring about additional stress.  Mothers with a history of depression or other mood disorders are at an increased risk, but mothers from all backgrounds can be affected. For these reasons, it is now recommended that pediatricians and OB-GYN physicians screen all moms in the postpartum period.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of excessive mood swings, anxiety out of proportion to reality, difficulty getting out of bed, poor appetite, inability to concentrate on daily tasks, anger or resentment toward your baby, you could be experiencing perinatal depression. It is important to talk to other women and to your doctor about these feelings. There are treatments available, oftentimes in the form of a temporary medication called a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI). These medications and others like them adjust chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood. While the idea of a medication that affects your mood seems scary or taboo to many people, I like to encourage new moms that they can be tremendously helpful in the healing process. They are safe for breastfeeding and non-addictive.  The side effects are generally minimal.

Finally, surrounding yourself with a network of support is critical whether you have baby blues, perinatal depression, or just three children who act like wild banshees from time to time.

If you are looking for a community of moms, a tribe of women raising the world together, we want to connect you with a group of mommas with littles that meets in your neighborhood. We want you to know that this journey of mothering doesn’t have to be lonely. Hello, Dearest lives under the wing of MOPS International, a grassroots organization connecting mothers – because moms change the world.

Find a group near you.

Sarahbeth Eriksen is a pediatrician who currently lives in Augusta, GA, with her favorite men: her husband Bryan, son James and 14 year old dog Sarge.  She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. She graduated from the Medical College of Georgia and completed her residency training in Greenville, SC. One of many reasons she loves pediatrics is the opportunity it gives to come alongside other mommies with reassurance and encouragement.