I’m a survivor of two life-threatening postpartum depressions. For the last 20 years my mission has been to educate medical and mental health professionals and the public to promote postpartum wellness. I work directly with women and their families around the world to make sure they don’t suffer the way my family and I did. I’ve worked with over 15,000 women, and I’ve never met one who did not fully recover when given proper help.

I’m always asked, “Is this normal what I’m feeling?” There are two main ways to tell whether it’s normal or not. Here’s how you can tell the difference between the baby blues (normal) and postpartum depression (not normal):

The baby blues are part of the normal adjustment to motherhood, and most new mothers experience them. 50 % to 80 % of new moms experience mild ups and downs, tearfulness, and stress. This is mainly a hormonal reaction, but other factors such as disappointment about the birth or the sex of the baby, sleep deprivation, and physical discomforts can also add to the blues. Although this is a normal reaction, the blues don’t feel good, and all new mothers deserve support no matter what they are feeling. The blues should be gone by two weeks after you deliver the baby. If the blues are not gone by two weeks postpartum, what you’re experiencing is now called postpartum depression and you should get some help.

Postpartum depression is one of six postpartum mood disorders and it’s the most common, affecting about 15 % of mothers around the world. It can happen after the birth of any baby, not just your first, and it may start any time up to the first year postpartum. The primary cause is the huge hormonal drop after the baby is delivered. There are also issues such as moving, illness, poor partner support, financial hardship, sleep deprivation, and social isolation that can feed into the postpartum depression. Some of the most common symptoms of postpartum depression often include difficulty sleeping at night even when the baby is sleeping, appetite problems, anxiety, frequent crying, lack of energy, guilt feelings, low self-esteem, overwhelmed feelings, hopelessness, decreased sex drive and irritability or anger. If these or other feelings are so severe that they get in the way of your normal functioning, even if it’s during the first two weeks, don’t wait - get help right away by contacting a health practitioner you trust. Postpartum depression is nothing to be worried about, and it’s very treatable – often without medication.

Postpartum depression can often be prevented by setting up an action plan before the baby comes. The plan should include sleep at night (yes, this is possible even if you’re breastfeeding), excellent nutrition to keep your brain chemistry healthy, realistic expectations, emotional support, and physical support so you can nurture yourself regularly. Your family needs you whole and healthy, so make sure to get the help you need so you’ll have what it takes to care for them.

Author's Bio: 

Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D. is the author of Postpartum Depression For Dummies and co-author of Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression. Her latest book Pregnant on Prozac will be available in January of ’09. She’s also created guided imagery audios that are specifically focused on helping moms take care of themselves. ABC's “20/20” featured Dr. Shoshana as the postpartum expert and news stations including CNN consult her. Several publications including the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News have written articles on Dr. Shoshana’s work. She’s interviewed regularly on radio and television and has been quoted in dozens of newspapers and magazines such as the Boston Globe, Glamour, Psychology Today, New York Post, Self, Cosmopolitan, USA Weekend and the Chicago Tribune.

Dr. Shoshana is a survivor of two life-threatening, undiagnosed postpartum depressions. She founded Postpartum Assistance for Mothers in 1987, and is a former president of Postpartum Support International. Dr. Shoshana has helped over 17,000 women worldwide through individual consultations, support groups and teleclasses. As a noted guest lecturer and keynote speaker, she travels throughout the US and abroad, training medical and mental health professionals to assess and treat postpartum depression and related mood disorders. She earned three teaching credentials, two masters degrees, a Ph.D. and is licensed as a clinical psychologist. She is working to pass legislation that helps reduce the incidence and impact of postpartum mood disorders.