Having a new baby is a joyful time, but also commonly causes unstable and intense emotions that can include depression and anxiety. This postpartum mood instability, as well as more severe conditions like postpartum depression, can be treated with the help of your OB/GYN.
What is Postpartum Mood Instability?
Postpartum mood instability is commonly called “baby blues.” Due to rapid hormonal changes, the stress of being a new parent, and lack of sleep, many new mothers experience mood swings and may feel intense emotions including anxiety, joy, exhaustion, and sadness. It’s normal for a mother in the first several weeks of her baby’s life to experience this mood instability. Dr. Silverstein says “At least half of patients after they deliver—and in many studies it’s even more than that—will have some amount of mood instability. That might manifest as breaking into tears for no apparent reason and that might be immediately after hysterical laughing.”
Dr. Silverstein notes that getting adequate sleep in every 24-hour period is an essential start; a significant portion of healing takes place when you sleep, less when you are awake, and even less when you are ‘behind’ on your sleep. Since the average newborn sleeps 14-18 hours in every 24-hour period (often in small segments), napping when the baby naps is an excellent way to keep up with your body’s recovery. Leaning on family for support can help alleviate the mood instability as well. At the six-week postpartum visit, OB/GYNs generally screen patients for postpartum mood disorders. These differ from postpartum mood disorders in their longevity, symptoms, and treatment.
What are Postpartum Mood Disorders?
Mood symptoms that are severe or last two weeks or more can be signs of a postpartum mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. These symptoms include anxiety, persistent sadness, anger and irritability, insomnia and difficulty sleeping, as well as intrusive, negative thoughts. “Functionality is going to be the key to an early diagnosis of postpartum depression,” says Dr. Silverstein. “If you’re unable to care for yourself, if you’re unable to extend care to your child, that’s one of the signs that ought to be brought to the attention of your physician as early as possible.”
In extremely rare cases, postpartum psychosis can also occur. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include hallucinations, delusions, confusion or cognitive impairment, extreme disorganized behavior, and coming in and out of consciousness. These symptoms represent a psychiatric emergency, and patients should seek immediate medical attention. Patients who have previously dealt with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are at a higher risk for developing postpartum mood disorders.
Treating Postpartum Mood Disorders
If postpartum mood instability occurs, your OB/GYN will recommend referral to an appropriate health care professional. Our practice uses groups that integrate psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists, and often include group meetings so common concerns can be shared. When indicated, antidepressants may be prescribed by them to help. Dr. Silverstein explains that since “most of these medications take anywhere between two and three weeks before they’re effective,” it’s important to seek treatment as early as possible, otherwise “you can lose a lot of that bonding time with your child.”