Most women find the first weeks and months after birth to be a time of great emotional upheaval. Intense feelings of joy, exhaustion, fatigue, loneliness, disappointment, fear and happiness are all common in the early postpartum period. The transition to parenthood is referred to as normal “life crisis.” Life will never be quite the same again. You will redefine who you are (a mother or father), and you will find that you are expected to put the baby’s needs before your own. It sometimes feels as though caring for a totally dependent infant is a heavy burden. It is common to feel that life is over and all that’s left is feeding, changing and soothing an infant. Give yourself time to heal and adjust.
If you have other children at home, you may feel sad that they have to wait for attention and that you have less time for them, the baby, your husband or partner, and yourself. The depth of your feelings may be related, in part, to the enormous hormonal changes that occur after birth, or to fatigue incision pain, swollen breasts or sore nipples. It also may be related to the support you have at home, your feelings about your childbirth experience and the individual needs of your baby.
It is normal at first to feel exhilarated, even “wired,” and to have a difficult time resting or sleeping. You may find yourself reliving the birth experience. Once you are at home, the enormity of the 24-hour-a-day responsibility of caring for a baby who knows nothing about day or night sets in. You may feel overwhelmed, not really knowing what it is that your baby needs; and you may find you are more irritable than usual or cry easily. These feelings, called the “baby blues,” can be quite normal. “Baby blues” can occur in 50 to 80 percent of new mothers. They usually start on the second or third day after birth and can last a few weeks.
Postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in about 10 percent of new mothers. PPD can occur anytime in the first year after birth. Women with PPD often feel inadequate, despondent, hopeless and unable to cope with everyday life. If you feel this is happening, consult with your doctor.
Other symptoms include:
- Having great fears about your baby’s health or your own
- Headaches, chest pains, panic attacks, inability to sleep and loss of appetite (or overeating)
- If these symptoms occur often enough to cause you to be unable to care for your baby and/or yourself or last longer than a week, call your healthcare provider.
- If you have PPD, you can be helped to get well with medication and counseling. If the feelings get worse or if you do not get care, a short hospital stay may be needed.