Ask: What if mom can't shake the 'baby blues'?

02/26/2013 12:01 AM

02/23/2013 4:36 PM

This week, Raleigh parent coach and postpartum doula Pam Diamond talks about postpartum mood disorder – and how it's different than a case of the "baby blues."

Working with new parents soon after birth, I am often one of the first people to recognize signs of postpartum depression and anxiety. Some emotional episodes are normal in a new mother. After all, a pregnant woman’s hormone levels change drastically immediately after giving birth. Then factor in the hormonal changes that come with breastfeeding and the responsibility of caring for this new bundle of joy. The baby blues, as this period is often called, may affect up to 80 percent of women after childbirth. Mild symptoms may include feeling overly emotional, some crying, impatience, irritability and mild anxiety. The baby blues come on quickly, usually in the first week, and disappear just as quickly, typically within a week or two.

But when the symptoms of depression or anxiety are still lingering after more than a couple of weeks have passed, or if the feelings become overwhelming to the new mother, she may be suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.

Postpartum mood disorders (PMD) can affect any new parent – mothers and fathers alike. They affect all income and educational levels, all cultures and races. Approximately 30 percent of women experience some level of PMD, and current estimates show 40-60 percent of fathers connected to those women experience similar symptoms.

There are risk factors that raise the odds of having a PMD, such as having a history of anxiety or depression, having a baby with reflux or colicky symptoms, having little or no support in home after having the baby, having multiples, or having a baby with physical or developmental challenges. Parents who describe themselves as highly structured and having a hard time with change may also be more likely to develop PMD.

Symptoms of PMD do not necessarily look like a mother who won’t get out of bed, the image many have of a person with depression. Instead, it might look like excessive worry and anxiety, extreme fatigue but unable to sleep, sleeping too much, extreme irritability, or having irrational fears.

But here is the clincher: If left untreated, PMD can have a direct and long-lasting impact on the baby and entire family. For example, the mother-child bond can be impaired, infant and early childhood development can be negatively affected by an unresponsive parent, or the relationship between the mother and her partner can become strained and negatively affect the entire family, according to Anne Wimer, co-founder of Moms Supporting Moms, a support group for women suffering from PMD. It’s critical that the family gets support before the condition begins to take its toll on the baby and family.

We are fortunate to have many excellent resources in our area for families affected by PMD, from psychologists and psychiatrists to support groups and even a treatment facility specifically for PMD. I encourage families not to try toughing it out, thinking it will just go away. PMD doesn’t usually resolve quickly – one of the most significant differences between PMD and the baby blues – and it often requires medical attention.

Many parents find it difficult to admit to these intense, negative feelings. Many feel embarrassed or like failures on some level. Yet, for the well-being of the baby and family, it’s critical that you push through this and seek help.

Click here for an online screening tool that can help a new parent get started on the road to healing. Though the results are not definitive, it is one tool to help you take the first step. 

For local support and referrals, visit Postpartum Education and Support at .

Pam Diamond is a parent coach, postpartum doula, baby sleep consultant and owner of First Daze & Nightzzz, LLC. Pam’s goal is to help parents and babies get off to the best possible start. She helps families fix what’s not working and enjoy what is. She lives in Cary with her husband and two teenage children. You can learn more about Pam on her website: First Daze & Nightzzz, or email her at

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