Postpartum Basics: The Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

A combination of wistfulness, hormones, overwork and fatigue serves to create what we unofficially call the postpartum blues. Giving birth to a child and then becoming responsible for him or her day and night is an enormous, dramatic burden, and it tends to wear down the body's mechanisms. Seventy to 80 percent of all women who've just had babies experience some form of blues. Most of my patients find themselves bursting into tears for no good reason at least once or feeling irritable and bitterly arguing with their spouse over such major issues as whose turn it is to change a diaper. There may be a sense that having a baby was a mistake. There's a good chance that a woman in the midst of postpartum will feel lonely and isolated, as though she will never get her "real life" back. She may also feel overrun, especially if she has a baby nurse living with her-a total stranger who seems to know a lot more about baby care than she does. Sometimes, if a woman's mother comes to help out after the baby arrives, tensions can arise, and certain old problems in the relationship between mother and daughter are reactivated. The mother may insist that she's "just trying to help," but her distraught daughter may feel criticized, bossed around and just plain miserable, so much that she may disappear into the linen closet for the occasional good cry.

All of these postpartum scenarios are totally normal. I experienced a couple of them myself. Because Samantha and Zachary were premature, they had to stay in the hospital longer than I did. I'd had an image of Jeff and myself leaving the hospital with two bundles in our arms, and not being able to do that was upsetting. I was tearful for several days when I went to visit them in the nursery. There they were, lying in their isolettes: perfect, helpless, yet strong. The beauty of it all-and the frustration-made me burst quietly into tears.

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