Hooray, the baby is here, and everyone around you is bursting with joy—except you. This was supposed to be the happiest time of your life, so why are you feeling so blue, moody, achy, anxious and exhausted?
Rest assured, it's not just you. Up to 80 percent of new mothers experience some form of baby blues—an emotional reaction that can pop up days after you give birth and last for weeks.
To let you know you're not alone, we asked some real-life moms to share their postpartum depression stories and how they pulled themselves out of those dark days.
The Realization: I Let Myself Go
"I knew something was wrong when I looked in the mirror and saw how greasy my hair was. Suddenly, I realized I hadn't showered in days. I felt frazzled that I could forget such a basic need, but there I was—a single, smelly mom, in wrinkled PJs [with formula spit-up on them]. My whole life had become taking care of my baby and not doing a thing for myself. I didn't think it would be this hard," says Jenna D.
The Treatment: Self-grooming Changed My Mood
"That night, I called my girlfriend to come over so I could shower, shave my legs and put a deep conditioning rinse in my hair—not worrying if the baby would start screaming, " says Jenna. "That same weekend, I left the baby with my brother to get a manicure. Pretty pink nail polish. Something so simple really made a difference. Manicures, every other weekend, became a new tradition."
The Realization: I Felt Like a Basket-Case
"Crying, anxiety, insomnia and fear, something was going to happen to my baby every second of the day sent me to the ER with a racing heart. They gave me a low dose of Xanax to calm down. That night my MIL slept over, and I got a full night's rest, mostly because of the sedative. The next morning, I woke up with a sinking feeling in my stomach and no appetite like all the days prior. My MIL stayed with the baby, and I just went to the OB-GYN, crying, with no appointment. Postpartum depression is real." says Karen M.
The Treatment: Meds Made All the Difference
Karen candidly reveals her doctor put her on an antidepressant and suggested she allow her MIL, retired, to stay over and help. "I did, and within less than two weeks I was functioning again. But I didn't just medicate. I started seeing a therapist once a week. By the time my daughter was 2, I had tapered off the medication."
Samantha Backer, a labor and delivery nurse, says it's important to understand that you are not a bad mother for feeling poorly. Sadly, many women suffer alone because they feel ashamed. For help, talk to your OB or pediatrician. They will often be able to point you to therapists or psychologists who have experience in treating women with PPD. Reach out to friends who've had babies. 1-800-PPDMoms or 1800ppdmoms.org is a good organization. Accept help where it's offered, and sleep when you can! Sleep deprivation is a huge factor in depression, Backer says.
Most importantly, if you ever feel like hurting yourself or your baby, Backer says, place your baby in a safe place, walk away and call a friend or family member.
The Realization: I Felt Isolated
"I was in the hospital for five days recovering from a C-section. It was great to have the pain meds, help from the nurses and a constant rotation of happy, chatty, smiling visitors with flowers, cookies and cold cut sandwiches," says Carla W. "But then I got home. My husband went back to work. My mom flew home to Florida. I didn't have any mom friends. My days were routine and boring. I was isolated until my husband came home from the office, but even then, his focus was on the baby. I felt like I was disappearing."
The Treatment: Mommy Blogs Brought Me Back to Life
"I found myself reading mommy blogs and parenting sites for basic info at first. 'Is seedy poo OK,' I googled. 'White flakes on baby's head.' I was transported not only to sites boasting expert advice, but moms in the newborn trenches (like me!), or ones that have been there, done that!" Carla says.
Carla began to connect with these women online. Before she knew it, she was commenting and other people were commenting back. "It was like talking! Virtual conversations made me feel like I was part of a community. That I existed," she says.
Liz Gumbinner, editor of CoolMomPicks.com, says it makes perfect sense that blogs and the digital parenting communities have allowed moms to find their people.
"If you're a liberal homeschooler, a co-sleeping attachment parent, a single mom by choice or someone who defies all labels, you can drill down online and seek out like-minded parents online for real connections and valuable advice from kindred spirits. You can find the real, unvarnished stories of imperfect motherhood that you might not be hearing elsewhere," Gumbinner says.
The Realization: I Felt Like a Bump on a Log
"I was an avid runner and gym goer before having a baby—in the dead of winter," says Sami L. "If I knew that I'd be stuck in the house with a newborn in blizzards, I would have planned my pregnancy better. That was the longest winter of my life. I couldn't utilize the special running stroller because it was freezing cold out, and I couldn't exactly leave my newborn in the gym daycare room. I fell into a SAHM routine that included daytime TV, napping and baking on cold days. When I'd wake up and see snow falling or hear my husband say he was working from home because the weather was terrible, my skin would crawl and I'd begin to panic—pacing in the bedroom with the baby. On a bad morning, my husband suggested I take some deep breaths and relax while he bathed the baby."
The Treatment: The Power of Exercise
"Exercise is the happy drug for new moms! Why? It is a much needed time out—to step away from the stress, daily routine and exhaustion of being a mom," says Karen Vizueta, a full time fitness professional and founder of workouthotel.com.
Vizueta says when we exercise our bodies go through temperature, cardiovascular and biochemical changes. These changes create happiness, build a positive mood, decrease depression, reduce anxiety and stress, boost confidence and increase energy.
"Exercise is such a positive outlet for moms to rebuild not just their bodies, but their minds. It gives moms a break (even if it is 20 minutes), and allows them to feel normal again. Creating the habit of exercise for a new mom will boost her self esteem mentally and physically," Vizueta says.
But she warns new moms to remember it took 9 months for your body to create, carry and birth your baby, so once you are cleared by your OB-GYN to exercise again, be patient with your new body and start slow.
The Realization: Nothing Mattered
"I felt a lot of things after having the baby: flat, angry, exhausted, but I wasn't in love with my newborn. It took me a long time to feel anything for her. Was I suffering from postpartum depression? I guess, because seeing my husband light up over the baby made me feel even worse because I was obviously defected or something," says Kate P.
"Those early months and even years of new motherhood are absolutely some of the scariest of your life!" says Gumbinner. "It feels like moving to a new country, not knowing the language and starting a new career that you know nothing about all at once."
The Treatment: A Support Group Worked for Me
Kate was ashamed, but she confided in a friend who suggested she attend a support group for new moms.
"I didn't want to put myself in the 'Hi, I'm Kate and I'm not into my baby' category, but my friend dragged me there, and it was eye-opening," Kate says.
She says the women were so honest, and it comforted her to know her feelings weren't an anomaly and were valid.
"Through group therapy, I learned it wasn't my baby I didn't love—it was change I loathed. And bringing a baby into this world changes everything," Kate says.