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Negative Emotions Following Childbirth

Dr. Joti Samra

December 18, 2019

Resiliency

Having a baby can be one of the happiest moments in a person’s life … yet it’s also high on the list of most stressful life events.

Most women experience myriad emotions after giving birth – excitement, happiness, elation and joy. In addition to the usual (expected) positive emotions, many women also experience low or sad mood, tearfulness, frustration or a sense of emptiness.

These negative emotions are often a surprising reaction to what most feel should be a unilaterally happy event. This experience, however, is extremely common. As many as 75% of moms will experience the “baby blues,” which in addition to low mood can also include a general feeling of flatness or emptiness. Unfortunately, however, many feel a sense of shame in terms of talking about these negative emotions.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the baby blues:

  • The delivery and postpartum process leads to significant hormonal changes.
    • Progesterone levels – which play a role in mood, energy and libido, among other things – decrease dramatically to allow milk production to begin.
    • There is a significant increase in adrenaline during delivery, and then a crash afterward.
  • The physical demands of birth and the associated sleep deprivation understandably leads to a major impact on mood.
  • The substantive life changes that come along with the responsibility of caring for another human life. This can be compounded by already having one baby and can, not uncommonly, lead moms to feel overwhelmed and lost.

Most women find that their mood will lift within a few weeks to a few months as they get used to the baby and their new schedule, as hormone levels stabilize, and as mom and baby get into a routine.

But, what are some things new mothers can do to help lift their mood following childbirth?

  • Talk about these feelings with close friends or family.
  • Join a moms’ baby group in the community. This can provide additional support and may help a new mother feel that what they’re experiencing is normal.
  • Ask close family or friends for help in day-to-day things that feel overwhelming (housecleaning, grocery shopping, meal preparation).
  • Build in short windows of time in which another trusted person can watch the baby to allow for alone time.
  • Build in self-care activities, such as taking an uninterrupted bath, going for a walk or getting a massage.

If a new mother is persistently feeling low, flat or empty for more than a month, they may benefit from seeking professional assistance. About one in 10 women will develop clinical levels of depression that are important to treat early on. Here are some questions a new mother can ask herself to determine whether or not she needs the extra support:

  • Are you feeling low or flat more often than not for weeks or longer?
  • Do you have a loss of interest in usual activities and things that you would normally enjoy?
  • Are you experiencing significant appetite changes, persistent anxiety or pervasive irritability?

If so, speaking to your nurse, midwife, doula or family doctor is important. They may suggest a referral to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

If at any point you feel you are at risk to harm yourself or your baby, immediately seek help and call 911.

Remember it is normal to feel low or have negative emotions after child birth, and it’s good to talk about it. It always helps to get support early.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published as part of a Globe and Mail “Ask the Psychologist” column authored by Dr. Samra, and has been edited and updated.

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