Postpartum depression is commonly misunderstood. Stigma and misconceptions may cause some mothers to avoid seeking treatment. Learn the facts behind the disorder.
There are many common misconceptions about postpartum depression, which leads to misunderstandings and confusion. Postpartum depression is different from general depression and is attributed to a sudden drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, a lack of sleep and other difficulties related to having a baby.
Myths about postpartum depression may be related to specific symptoms, its prevalence or its treatment. Myths can generate stigma, making women less likely to seek help or treatment. It is important to distinguish between postpartum depression myths and facts to increase understanding and awareness so that individuals will not be ashamed to seek treatment.
1. Myth: Postpartum depression always occurs in the first few months following childbirth.
FACT: Postpartum depression can occur at any point during the first year after a baby is born.
Postpartum depression onset can vary from woman to woman but commonly occurs three to four months after the baby is born. Some emotional mood fluctuations are normal in the first few weeks after a baby is born but they are fleeting and resolve themselves within a few weeks. If the moods are severe, long-lasting or worsening after several weeks, it may be indicative of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is ongoing, extreme and may not develop for many months after the baby is born. However, postpartum depression commonly develops in the first few months after the baby is born. Some symptoms of postpartum depression do not arise until six or nine months after the birth of a baby. Late-onset postpartum depression can occur as late as one year after a baby is born.
2. Myth: PPD only affects women.
FACT: Postpartum depression can also impact new fathers.
Postpartum depression in men, or paternal postnatal depression, is uncommon but it can occur. Fathers may feel neglected when a new baby arrives and can feel left out of the attachment process. Fathers may be sensitive to changes in their relationship with their partner and may experience new financial or work stressors. Fathers can even experience hormonal changes, such as a drop in testosterone.
Fathers’ postpartum depression most commonly occurs in the three to six months after a baby is born. Fathers are at an elevated risk for depression if his partner also suffers from postpartum depression. Fathers may feel sad, tired, anxious and overwhelmed, which are similar to the symptoms that women with postpartum depression experience.
3. Myth: Women with postpartum depression harm their babies.
FACT: Women with postpartum depression do not harm their babies.
Postpartum depression is often linked to the idea that women will harm or kill their babies, which is a common misconception. Postpartum depression and thoughts of harming a baby do not occur together. A woman is more likely to harm herself than her baby if the depression becomes so intense that she begins to experience suicidal thoughts.
Postpartum depression is often confused with postpartum psychosis, which is a serious disorder where mothers experience psychosis and lose touch with reality, causing them to inflict harm on their infants. Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare and does not occur often. An individual with postpartum psychosis may experience confusion, disorientation or delusions.
4. Myth: Women with PPD cry all the time.
FACT: Not all women with postpartum depression cry all the time.
Postpartum depression symptoms can vary from mother to mother. Some women will cry outwardly, while others hold their feelings inside. Some women are often tearful, but others may become numb, irritable or angry. Irritability and anger may turn into rage or impatience, making it challenging to cope with the stressors attributed to raising a new baby. Some women experience significant levels of anxiety and worry that they will harm their baby.
Other women can experience mood fluctuations that interfere with their ability to establish secure attachment and bonding with their infant. Other women may lose their appetite, experience disrupted sleep patterns, have trouble concentrating or experience a lack of confidence and low self-esteem.
5. Myth: Postpartum depression means a mother doesn’t love her baby.
FACT: Postpartum depression is not at all linked to how much a mother loves her baby.
Postpartum depression does not mean that a mother does not love her baby. Postpartum depression is linked with chemical imbalances, hormonal fluctuations and other psychological and environmental factors. Depression during this time has nothing to do with the mother’s lack of love for her baby. However, postpartum depression and the mother bonding with a baby can be impacted, as mood instability and fluctuations may prevent bonding and attachment.
6. Myth: PPD will go away on its own.
FACT: Postpartum depression will not go away on its own.
Postpartum depression does not go away on its own and should be treated by a mental health practitioner. Postpartum depression is extremely treatable and responds well to psychotherapy and medication interventions. It is detrimental for women to allow symptoms and feelings to continue with the hopes that they will eventually go away.
A person should seek postpartum depression treatment when symptoms are intensifying, when it impacts daily functioning and when it includes thoughts of harm to the person or to the baby. Treatment and recovery can vary based on the severity of the depression and when it is treated. Postpartum depression can be treated with psychotherapy, which teaches individuals how to better cope with feelings and new challenges. Medication, such as antidepressants may also be recommended in conjunction with therapy.
If you or a loved one live with a substance use disorder and are thinking about becoming pregnant, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help the pregnancy be as healthy as possible.
Tartakovsky, M. “5 Damaging Myths About Postpartum Depression.” PsychCentral, October 8, 2018. Accessed June 9, 2019.
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