8 Myths About Postpartum Depression

February 6, 2012 Guest Blogger 8 comments


Myth #1. If you don’t have thoughts of harming your baby, it’s not PPD.

Just the other day, I heard this from a friend. This myth is extremely widespread, and yet it still knocks the wind out of me whenever I hear it. When PPD is portrayed in the media, this is how it is characterized. Mention PPD to many people and they will think of Andrea Yates, or her fictional counterpart on any number of TV crime dramas. That’s the stuff that keeps viewers glued to the screen. But for most women with PPD, that’s not reality.

Myth #2. If you don’t feel sad, it’s not PPD.

People hear “depression” and associate it with “sadness.” But sadness is an emotion, and depression is an illness. Women who have PPD experience a variety of symptoms; sadness might be among them, but it just as easily might not. Other symptoms of PPD include (but are not limited to) irritability, insomnia, fatigue, rage, numbness, intrusive thoughts, and suicidal ideation. Women may experience all of these or just a few, or some of them at different times. Postpartum Progress has put together an excellent resource on the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety: The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (in Plain Mama English)

Myth #3. You didn’t start feeling unwell until your baby was (3, 6, 9) months old, so it’s not PPD.

The onset of PPD can occur anytime within the first year of your baby’s life. It is also important to note that some women may not be able to identify exactly when their symptoms began. Some women do not seek treatment until well after their baby’s first year, after trying to ignore symptoms and hoping they would go away on their own.

Myth #4. Feeling depressed and anxious is a normal part of being a new mother.

As a new mother, it is normal to be tired, to sometimes feel overwhelmed, to feel unsure about how to handle new responsibilities, and to take time to mourn the loss of the one-on-one relationship you and you partner had. In the first few days postpartum, hormonal shifts may cause weepiness and sadness – this is often referred to as “the baby blues.” With PPD, the feelings are debilitating and sustained. PPD also affects other areas of your life – Amber Koter-Puline has a great illustration of this at Beyond Postpartum.

PPD is not the baby blues, and it cannot be “toughed out;” it is a serious medical condition that rarely resolves without treatment. If you feel something is “off,” seek help from a trained professional as soon as possible.

Myth #5. Having PPD is a luxury.

How many of us have heard or read a variation of this sentiment: “When my baby was born, I didn’t have time to be depressed”? This is one of the cruelest statements I can imagine – and it speaks to the larger stigma and lack of understanding in our society around mental illness in general. PPD is not a choice. It is not something reserved for equivocal new mothers with too much time on their hands. It is an illness, and it is treatable and curable.

Myth #6. Breastfeeding prevents PPD.

This is a particularly dangerous myth, because it can result in women not seeking help when they are experiencing symptoms. Some studies have shown a correlation between breastfeeding and lack of PPD, but correlation is not causation. Those studies tended to be of the self-reported variety and didn’t control for other factors such as age, relationship status, work status, ease or difficulty of initial breastfeeding, medical history, medical problems in mother or baby, and more. Unfortunately, many blogs have seized upon the correlation and used it to promote the myth that breastfeeding is a way to prevent or cure PPD, which is untrue.

Amber and Fitz, one week postpartumMyth #7. If you have a positive birth experience, you won’t develop PPD.

Like the correlation between breastfeeding and lack of PPD, this is another dangerous myth that is often touted on blogs and web sites in the natural birth community. I had a wonderful, natural birth at home and couldn’t have asked for a better support team, and I still developed severe postpartum depression and anxiety. On top of that, I felt like a failure – I’d had a great birth and yet I still developed PPD, so there must be something wrong with me.

It is true that a traumatic or disappointing birth experience can be a trigger for PPD. This is a risk factor, not a one-to-one relationship. As Ivy Shih Leung writes on her blog, the fact is that there is no surefire way to prevent PPD.

Myth #8. If you had PPD after your first child, you’ll have it again the next time around.

If you had PPD once, you have a 50% chance of having it with your next baby. This also means you have a 50% chance of not having it. At Beyond Postpartum, Amber Koter-Puline writes about having a completely different experience with her second child. Instead of feeling doomed to living through the hell of PPD a second time, you can focus on preparation, utilizing the lessons you learned from surviving PPD to make a game plan for the postpartum period with your next baby.

More resources for help:

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  • I am so proud of you! This is a fantastic post. Going to sharing it over at BP. 🙂

  • This is a great post, thank you for sharing with us.

  • This is an excellent and informative article. I’m pleased to see there is more support and resources for new mothers who experience PPD and PTSD after giving birth. No mother should have to suffer in silence, or be worried about not being taken seriously or worse, considering themselves a failure for having PPD.

    I experienced PPD and PTSD after a very traumatic post-partum experience where I nearly died. The symptoms were not always the classic textbook ones we look for, so it took me a while to realize what was going on. I didn’t have sadness. I had numbness, irritability, and rage. I couldn’t handle looking at my daughter’s photos from her c-section, and I couldn’t handle reading other womens’ birth stories. I also experienced an inability to concentrate on things, something I previously didn’t have as an issue.

    The PTSD symptoms were trickier to identify. I didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks, per se. But any talk of c-sections or births would cause me to have recurring intrusive thoughts at any time of the day about my birth experience, about what I did and didn’t remember from that week in the hospital. It also made me hyper-vigilant about my safety. I’d break out into a sweat in traffic, I’d have near panic attacks on planes if there was the slightest turbulence (and I used to travel frequently for business) and kept all of this fear bottled up because I was “lucky to be alive.”

    I feel fatigued and anxious for the two months leading up to my daughter’s birthday and I have struggled the past few years (last year was easier) to even be able to maintain the focus and energy to organize and host her birthday parties.

    Thankfully, I have had the support of some amazing women at ICAN, my family and friends, my therapist, and my own Reiki healing practice (which was crucial in helping me come to terms with many of these complex and seemingly unrelated emotions.) I noticed recently that I must be experiencing another level of healing, because I read a lovely birth story about a woman who had an assisted home birth in a cabin in the woods, and afterward, I felt so incredibly happy for her.

    Thank you again for this article and for reminding women that support and resources are there. All they have to do is ask.

  • Amber and Cynthia – thank you!!

    Dana – thank you for sharing your story. Healing is definitely a process… and is not at all linear, something which frustrates me still. I feel strongly that there needs to be more discussion of PPD and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in the natural birth community. As I talk to more women one-on-one who associate with this community, I find more and more who have suffered in silence, and I long to break the silence. Btw, I am pretty sure the woman whose birth story you read is a friend of mine… unless there are lots of moms these days have midwife-assisted births in the woods! 😉

  • Jessica

    The first week after my baby was born I had to see my general doctor bad headaches, dehydrated etc. I was explaining to him that I started a antidepressant & that I had ppd.
    What he told me was… You just have a “little blues”. If you were suffering from ppd you wouldn’t be able
    to drive or leave your house completely a ignorant statement especially fora doctor.

  • Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals are still very ignorant about PPD. I’m sorry that happened to you, Jessica.

  • Thank you for sharing this great information. As a society, we need to be more watchful and protective of our new moms. Much more correct information needs to get out there about ppd.
    Thank you for sharing!!!

  • Jenny

    Being a breast-feeding new mom suffering from postpartum depression, I refused to take prescription medications. I used magnetic therapy and was amazed by how it helped me.