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6 Subtle Signs of Postpartum Depression

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Nashville delivers top notch music (and perfect hair) to our TVs every Wednesday, but lately the show is shedding light on a heavier subject: Juliette Barnes, played by Hayden Panettiere, suffers from postpartum depression (PPD) so severe that she wants nothing to do with her daughter and even throws a glass snowglobe at her husband while he's holding their baby.

During a recent interview on Live! with Kelly and Michael, Panettiere opened up about the fact that the intense storyline actually wasn't such a stretch for her: After giving birth to her daughter Kaya last December, Panettiere said she suffered from PPD herself. However, she was quick to specify that her's was entirely different than her characters. "When they tell you about postpartum depression, you think...'I feel negative feelings toward my child, I want to injure my child, I want to hurt my child.' I've never ever had those feelings and some women do, but you don't realize what broad of a spectrum you can really experience that on...There's a lot of misunderstanding," she told Kelly and Michael.

Other celebrities have been equally vocal about their post-birth emotional struggles including, most famously, Brooke Shields, but also Gwenyth Paltrow, Amanda Peet, and Alanis Morissette. In fact, up to 16 percent of women will experience postpartum depression, according to the American Psychological Association. And 41 percent of women who experience it once suffer it again with later pregnancies. Some sufferers even begin experiencing symptoms during their pregnancy, according to a study in The Lancet earlier this year.

And that's just the number of women who seek treatment. That misunderstanding of what really defines postpartum depression that Panettiere mentioned is spot on with the problem, says Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the University of North Carolina Center for Women's Mood Disorders. "What we call 'postpartum depression' is in many ways an insufficient term," she says. "PPD is actually a spectrum of mild to severe symptoms. Women can feel sad, blue, tearful, anxious, detached, overwhelmed, or experience postpartum psychosis, which is a true psychiatric emergency." (Not pregnant and feeling emotional? It may be one of these 19 Weird Things That Can Make You Cry.)

Because of the range of severity, many women who experience symptoms on the more mild end of the spectrum brush their experience off as normal or just hormonal. But if you don't recognize the smallest of signs for what they really are, you don't know you can get help, she adds.

Here, six subtle clues that what you're feeling could be more than the baby blues.

1. You're unable to sleep when the baby sleeps. "Some people are terrible at napping, but if your baby is sleeping at night and you're lying there too anxious or worried to fall asleep it can be a sign of PPD," Meltzer-Brody says.

2. You feel like you can't enjoy your baby. It's normal to feel a certain degree of anxiety and worry when you bring a new baby home. "It's uncharted territory," she says. But if you find that your anxiety is interfering with your ability to enjoy your baby, then that's a signal that you should seek help.

3. You feel overwhelmed. Okay, everyone feels overwhelmed with a new baby. "The difference between what's normal and what's not becomes a matter of how well you're able to function," Meltzer-Brody says. With postpartum depression, you may feel so overwhelmed that you're not able to sleep or eat and you feel like you're struggling to make it through each day.

4. You feel like you're coming out of your skin. Some women describe this as feeling "activated." "You can't lie down, you're crying, you can't sit still, and you feel completely out of sorts," Meltzer-Brody says. This is part of postpartum depression.

5. You experience obsessive thoughts. One spot on the spectrum is postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder where you experience illogical, all-consuming thoughts, Meltzer-Brody explains. You're convinced that you're going to drop your baby when walking down the stairs or you're cooking in the kitchen and are worried that the knife is going to hit the baby. "While mothers are biologically wired to be on alert for danger, postpartum OCD is a normal adaptive process that's gone awry and no longer makes sense," she says. (Read about another kind of unhealthy obsession in My Fight with Orthorexia: How Healthy Habits Turned into an Eating Disorder.)

6. You're irritable. Sadness and anxiety manifest in different ways. "For a lot of people, this comes out as irritability," Meltzer-Brody says. "You feel like you have a very short fuse, everything and everyone is getting on your nerves, and it doesn't take much for someone to say something that makes you feel like you're going to snap."

If you are a new mama and identify with any sign on the spectrum of PPD, you have options for help. You can talk to your OB/GYN or Meltzer-Brody suggests visiting websites such as Postpartum Support International or Postpartum Progress.


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