Back to Blog

Postpartum Depression: When Motherhood and Mental Health Intersect

Published on May 22, 2023

How did I get here? I was sitting in our garage, sobbing uncontrollably while my toddler was napping, and our colicky newborn infant was screaming in his crib. I just had to get away. I was not able to cope any longer. I felt as though I was not fit to be a mother.

This was over 20 years ago now and yet I can still relive those feelings of incompetence and desperation when I reflect on that time in my life. As a pediatrician who had two babies 17 months apart, I have seen firsthand the challenges that come with postpartum depression. It is a condition that affects many new mothers, yet it is still not discussed and diagnosed often enough.

When we had my first son, I was overjoyed. I had always wanted to be a mother and I was thrilled to finally have a baby of my own. However, as the weeks went by, I found myself feeling increasingly sad and overwhelmed. I had trouble sleeping, I had no appetite and I felt like I was failing as a mother. I did not want to talk to anyone about it because I felt like I should be able to handle everything on my own. I did what I learned to do so well in medical school: put a smile on my face, put my head down and kept going, despite the despair I felt.

It was not until I had my second child 17 months later that I realized what was happening to me. The same feelings of sadness and overwhelm came rushing back, only this time it was worse. It was now in the form of debilitating anxiety that reared its ugly head in the form of panic attacks. This is when I found myself in the garage in complete despair.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition that affects up to 1 in 7 new mothers. It is different from the "baby blues," which is a common and mild form of mood changes that many new mothers experience. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a more severe and persistent form of mood disorder that can last for weeks or months after giving birth. It is often accompanied by severe anxiety as well.

The symptoms of postpartum depression can vary from person to person, but some common signs include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Feeling irritable or angry
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Challenges with breastfeeding

There are several treatment options for postpartum depression, including therapy and medication, even while breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians screen for PPD at the 1, 2-, 4-, and 6-month visits. Left untreated, depression can hurt parents’ ability to bond with and care for their baby and can lead to discontinued breastfeeding, family dysfunction and an increased risk of child abuse and neglect. Untreated depression can also affect a baby’s brain development. Therapy can help you work through your feelings and develop coping strategies, while medication can help regulate your mood. I benefitted from both treatments after finally being diagnosed.

In addition to seeking professional help, there are also things you can do at home to manage your symptoms. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can all help improve your mood. Ask for help. It is important to contact friends and family for support and to take time for yourself when possible.

As a pediatrician, I have seen firsthand the impact that postpartum depression can have on new mothers and their families. It is not something to be ashamed of or to try to handle on your own. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please reach out for help. You are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking treatment. Your wellbeing and your baby’s depend on it.


About the Author

Jolie Limon, MD, FAAP, is Vice President of Academic Affairs and Designated Institutional Officer, and Chief of Pediatrics at Valley Children’s Healthcare. In this role, she oversees a variety of educational and research programs at Valley Children’s Hospital. Dr. Limon joined Valley Children’s in 2000 as a pediatric hospitalist and throughout her career has been a champion for education, advocacy, innovation and collaboration. In her free time, Dr. Limon enjoys fitness, reading, traveling and spending time with her husband and two college-age sons.