Postpartum Isn't the Only Depression That Can Come With Motherhood

Stressed mom with young girl

You've heard of postpartum depression -- an intense sadness that can set in up to one year after baby's born. But "maternal depression" can strike in later years, too. And it may be more common -- and devastating -- than any of us would like to believe.

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"Depression" and "mom" are two words we're reluctant to say in the same sentence. But as many as one-third of all women may feel intensely sad about being a parent.

And surprisingly, depression is more likely to set in four years after giving birth than right after you bring baby home from the hospital. And it's twice as likely to strike first-time moms.

"Many moms feel ashamed to admit that they are having thoughts of upset, frustration, melancholy, or persistent and unrelenting sadness," says Hillary Goldsher, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills. "Being the mother of a young child or children is supposed to be a time of bliss or gratitude. [That's] the message persistently held up by our culture. So ... feelings of overwhelm and frustration or even wishing for relief ... feels fraught with shame."

Multiple factors can cause moms to sink into depression. If you had an unhappy childhood, the parenting rigmarole can bring up traumatic baggage. The constant juggling of child-rearing, work, and personal obligations may take a toll.

More from The Stir: 5 Tips for Parenting Through Depression

If you've already battled depression, or have a family history of depression or bipolar disorder, you're also at higher risk.

"Sleep deprivation alone can trigger feelings of depression," notes Jenny Taitz, PsyD, a board-certified clinical psychologist in New York City. "There are so many hormonal changes, body changes, and life changes you go through as a new mother."

What are the signs?

Significant sadness, irritability, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and insomnia are all red flags that your "blah" feeling is something far more serious, says Taitz.

But it's important that you don't blame yourself for not being more positive or a "better" mom. Notes Taitz: "It's hard to think your way out of pain when you can't think clearly. And no one can on no sleep!"

How can you cope?

For starters, join a moms support group so you can connect with other parents and realize you're NOT alone. Next, "try to be kind to yourself," Taitz advises. When you have a spare moment, "don't force yourself to clean constantly and Google parenting questions," she advises. "Sit down, put your feet up, and take some time to notice all you're doing well."

Ask your OB/GYN or another doctor you trust to recommend a therapist you can talk to. While you might be reluctant to spend any time (much less money) on counseling, doing so could be the key to getting you out of an emotional slump and getting your family back on track.

There's no shame in seeking help -- just the opposite. Doing so, says Taitz, "can allow you to be the mother you always dreamed of."

 

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