7 Myths and Truths You Need to Know About Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Written By

Jess VanderWier
October 22, 2019

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Not feeling like yourself after having a baby?

1 in every 7 women will struggle with feelings of postpartum depression or anxiety (PPD/PPA). 

If you are one of these women, you likely don’t feel like yourself anymore. PPD/PPA is incredibly difficult to deal with, and often times goes undiagnosed and untreated. This leads women to struggle in silence, feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

6 weeks after my daughter was born, I didn’t feel like myself. Feelings such as fear, a need for perfection, and guilt consumed me. I looked at pictures from other mothers online, and thought that I was the only one struggling to make it through the day. However, some time later I learned that I wasn’t alone. Instead, I was a part of the one in every seven women who struggle with feelings of anxiety or depression postpartum. I share this story, because there is hope. Soon after seeking help, I started feeling better. Day by day I built up my resilience and my ability to cope with change. Motherhood became something that I loved, and all of the challenges that came with it seemed manageable.

This experience, showed me that there needs to be a much bigger conversation about PPD/PPA. There are SO many women that don’t seek help, and end up struggling in silence for years. If you are struggling with PPD/PPA and want to learn more about it, this post is for you. If you are supporting someone who is struggling, and want to learn more, this post is for you! If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, or are about to have a baby, this post is for you.

The more we can spread awareness about these mental illness’ the more we can build a culture of mothers that is strong and empowered! We hope that by debunking these myths you will know when to seek help, and you will be able to start feeling like yourself again soon.

MYTH #1: I will only get postpartum depression and/or anxiety if I struggled with my mental health before having a baby.

FACT: Although having a history of mental illness can increase a women’s vulnerability to PPD/PPA, there are many women who have never struggled with their mental health before who are diagnosed with this mental illness.This myth often leads women who have never struggled before with mental illness, feeling unprepared and unsure what to do when they start feeling depressed or anxious following having a baby.

Outside of mental health history, there are many causes of postpartum depression or anxiety. To start, having a baby can cause a dramatic drop in your body’s hormones, progesterone and estrogen. Drastic changes in a woman’s blood volume also occur. These physical changes contribute to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. There are also emotional factors. Having a baby brings up feelings of excitement, but also feelings of anxiety. These feelings can make women feel very overwhelmed. A new baby can also bring up emotions from previous traumatic experiences.  

Having a baby also leads to huge lifestyle changes. Your life is now about caring for this child, and it can leave little time for yourself. Sleep deprivation has also been shown in the research to be a large contributing factor to feelings of depression.

MYTH #2: Postpartum depression and/or anxiety starts to surface a few weeks after giving birth.

FACT: PPD/PPA can actually surface anytime in the year after giving birth to, or adopting, your little one.

Women report that in the first few weeks after giving birth, although they struggled emotionally, they felt well supported by doctors, family members, and friends. Many times after these first few weeks women spend much more time alone with the baby, which can start leading to feelings of isolation. Also, as time goes on women may start to become more sleep deprived, and may start to feel feelings of exhaustion, depression, and fear.

What this information tells us is that we need to make sure we are checking in with the mothers in our lives far past the first few weeks after they give birth. We need to be asking the tough questions to these mothers, and making sure that they are OK! If you are concerned about your loved ones, make sure you ask them how they are doing, and help them get the support that they need.

MYTH #3: It’s just hormones! They will go away on their own. 

FACT: As we talked about earlier, hormonal change is a risk factor for PPD/PPA. However, many women avoid getting help in the hopes that their hormones will get back to normal on their own. Often times this way of thinking leads women to suffer for a long time, when they could feel better much more quickly if they sought help right away!

If you are concerned that you have PPD/PPA and think it is due to hormonal changes, make sure you talk to your doctor. They can assess you to see if you would benefit from medication, and they can also assess to see what other factors are contributing to your difficult feelings. The sooner you can get help, the better! Research has shown that PPD/PPA is very treatable, and can be resolved quickly with the correct medication and/or therapy.

MYTH #4: It is normal for a new mom to feel depressed and anxious.

FACT: Many women report having the ‘baby blues’ following having a baby. They may experience feelings of being overwhelmed, being fatigued, feeling like they can’t stop crying, and feeling very stressed out. Though having the baby blues is quite common, if these symptoms continue after 2 weeks postpartum they can signal that something else is wrong!

It is NOT normal to have feelings of: depressed mood, lack of interest in things that you used to enjoy, feeling worthlessness, suicidal thoughts, thoughts of harming your baby, extreme rage, guilt, a need for perfection, high levels of fear, irritability, and high emotional sensitivity. When a woman has PPD/PPA she may continue to feel fatigued to the point where she doesn’t think she can get out of bed. She may not be able to sleep (even when the baby is sleeping), she may have scary thoughts, and/or she may feel hopeless and overwhelmed. 

Many women who struggle with this feel like they are a horrible mother and like there is a huge dark cloud over being a parent. PPD/PPA doesn’t discriminate, and it can happen to anyone. These symptoms happen on a spectrum, and can range from mild-severe. If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, make sure you talk to a professional about it as soon as possible so that you can be treated! You are not alone, and there are many people out there who would love to help you start feeling like yourself again. 

MYTH #5: You will know if you have PPD/PPA. 

FACT: This is another common myth! Doctors will often ask if you are having depressive or anxious symptoms in your 6 week check-up. However, many women think that what they are feeling is just a normal part of being a mother. They often push these feelings aside and don’t give them enough credit.

After my daughter was born, my doctor asked how I was doing. I quickly assured her that everything was fine, and brought the focus back onto my daughter. Meanwhile, I was unable to sleep because I was so stressed about whether or not my daughter was safe in her crib. I wasn’t able to control my emotions, felt an intense fear, and a need to be the ‘perfect’ mother. These emotions painted a dark cloud over motherhood for me, but I thought it was just a normal part of being a new mom. It wasn’t until later that I recognized that these were all symptoms of anxiety. As a mental health professional I was shocked that I didn’t recognize these symptoms in myself earlier.

If you suspect that someone in your life is struggling with PPD/PPA gently approach them about it, and ask them how you can support them. The best thing that you can do is assure them that they can feel better, and help them get to a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible.

MYTH #6: I am always going to struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety.

FACT: Although postpartum depression and anxiety are extremely difficult to deal with, there is hope. This is a very treatable illness, and with the correct medication and/or therapy a woman can quickly start to feel better. The important thing to note is that if you are struggling, reach out to your loved ones and professionals for help. If you are unsure about how to talk to them about your struggles check out this link.

Without proper treatment, PPD/PPA can turn into a more long term illness. This is why it is so important that we talk about this difficult topic! The more we share our experiences and debunk the myths surrounding PPD/PPA the more we can encourage women to get the help that they need!

Related Post: How Do I Tell My Loved Ones About My Mental Health Struggles?

MYTH #7: “I am a horrible mother.”

FACT: Almost all women who struggle with PPD/PPA have this thought at one point or another. There is so much pressure out in social media and in our culture to be this picture perfect mother. But the truth is that we all have our difficult moments, and no one is perfect. If at the end of the day your baby is safe, fed, and loved: consider it success!

This thought can cloud our vision, and make motherhood seem like a challenge that we cannot overcome. If you think this thought daily, make sure you talk to someone about it! One of the best things we can do for our babies is take care of our own mental health. If you think you may be struggling with PPD/PPA taking that time to get the treatment you need will help every aspect of your life improve, and will help you see that you are actually a great mother who is doing the best that she can for her baby!

Take home message

If you are struggling to feel like yourself again after having a baby, know that you are not alone. Though all of our stories are different, as mothers we share a common bond and understanding with each other. No matter who you are, or what your story is, there is help and there is hope. If you are reading this, and feel that you need to get help, make sure that you reach out to someone and get support. 

If you are reading this and you have been through something similar, share your story, or share this post. The more that we can reduce the stigma surrounding PPD/PPA the more we can help mothers feel that they are not alone, and that there is help out there. 

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    Article By

    Jess VanderWier
    Jess is a seasoned Registered Psychotherapist with a deep commitment to enhancing emotional well-being in children and families. Holding a Master's in Counselling Psychology, Jess has extensive clinical experience in guiding parents through their children's intense emotions, sleep struggles, anxiety, and other challenges with empathy and understanding. In addition to individual sessions, she is known for her work educating parents on social media through @nurturedfirst. Outside of her professional life, Jess enjoys the peace of nature hikes and spending as much time as possible enjoying her family.