Alert! This may not be what you think!
So you’ve read through the signs and symptoms of stress, baby blues and postpartum depression. Fatigue, mood swings, weepiness, irritability, guilt, anxiety, forgetfulness and despondency are high on your list. Maybe disappointment, numbness, lack of interest in your baby and yourself, hypersensitivity to criticism and feelings of vulnerability are on there as well. And let’s not forget your restless sleep patterns, loss of sexuality, insomnia, confusion and difficulty concentrating. If you are experiencing some combination of these, you must have a postpartum mood disorder, right?
Not necessarily. While I believe PPD and other postpartum disorders are often under-diagnosed, they are not always the true culprits. In my office, I recommend that mothers who come in with symptoms of postpartum mood disorders get a comprehensive medical assessment to check for underlying biochemical issues. It is certainly possible that you have a postpartum mood disorder if you experience these symptoms for an extended period of time following the birth of your child. However, it is important to know that nearly all of the “classic” postnatal disorder symptoms can be caused by a wide range of other medical disorders.
Take a look at these examples: Diabetes can cause low energy, anxiety and other symptoms of depression. Anemia can be responsible for fatigue, weakness and irritability. Thyroid disorders, prevalent in up to 10% of postpartum women, can mimic postpartum depression. Even something as simple as a vitamin deficiency can cause a host of easily treatable symptoms. One woman who struggled for months with what appeared to be postpartum depression finally consulted a doctor and discovered she had a systemic yeast infection. Once treated, she returned to her “old self” within 2 weeks!
Of course, it is entirely possible to have an underlying medical issue along with a postpartum mood disorder. The best way to be sure is to rule out or treat anything that may be masquerading as such. Only then can you be sure that the treatment you receive is right for you.
For some great advice on getting a health care provider to pay attention to more than just your birth canal at your 6 week checkup and beyond, check out the alchemical ideas in The Essential Mommy-Muse Toolkit.