As a PPD survivor, I still experience a physical reaction when I hear that another mom is battling its desperate, terrible reality. More celebrities are talking openly about their experience with postpartum depression, and that openness is a good thing. PPD is a serious illness that needs treatment, and all too often, the shame that’s still associated with it prevents women from getting help.
When I was diagnosed with PPD, I knew nothing about it. Seven years later, I can tell you exactly what I wish I knew when I started battling the illness myself:
1. Postpartum depression isn’t the same as the baby blues. It’s totally normal to feel worried, exhausted, and even unhappy when you’re a new mom and working on little sleep. The baby blues are common, affect up to 80 percent of women, and go away after a week or two. After the birth of my second child, I thought I was dealing with typical baby blues, as I did with my first baby — until my “blues” got more severe and more persistent.
2. You can “have it all” and still get PPD. Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate. You can be a celebrity with oodles of help or a suburban mom with a great support system. Just because your life is generally wonderful doesn’t mean you are immune to PPD. Which leads me to…
3. It can be difficult to make yourself get help. No matter your life circumstances, if you are already beating yourself up for not being blissfully happy about new motherhood, it’s hard to admit to others that something is wrong. Before I knew I had PPD, I felt guilty about how I was feeling and like I was a terrible mother. Who wants to admit you feel like you’re failing at motherhood? It took one horrible night when I exploded at my toddler for me to admit I needed help — and thankfully, I got it right away.
4. Having postpartum depression doesn’t always mean you feel sad. Sadness can be a part of PPD, but my main symptoms were anger, extreme irritability, anxiety and a general sense of hopelessness. The anger I felt with PPD really surprised me.
5. Postpartum depression is more common than you may think. Up to 20 percent of women experience PPD symptoms, according to the CDC. However, that statistic is over ten years old and only accounts for women who self-reported their PPD in 17 states, so experts say the actual percentage is likely higher.
6. There is nothing wrong with taking medication to treat PPD. Like many women, I was nervous about taking an antidepressant. I was worried I would feel drugged out or high, I fretted about the potential side effects, and I felt embarrassed about taking medication. Happily, my worries were unfounded. All the antidepressant did was make me feel like me again, and the side effects were minimal. As for the stigma of taking an antidepressant, I quickly realized how ridiculous that was. Wouldn’t I take insulin for diabetes or blood pressure medication to help my heart? Of course I would.So I wasn’t about to say no to a medication for my brain.
7. You can breastfeed and take an antidepressant. This was a big worry for me because my daughter wouldn’t take a bottle. Thankfully, many studies have shown that certain antidepressants are safe for nursing moms and their babies. I was able to take Zoloft and my baby experienced no negative effects.
8. You really shouldn’t neglect the basics when you have PPD. Those basics? Eating well, exercising, and sleeping. I know, I know. It’s really hard to do those things. But women suffering from PPD really need to try, as many studies have proven the benefits. A 10-minute daily walk while pushing your baby in her stroller, snacking on pre-packaged veggies, and having your partner take care of a nighttime feeding can make a huge difference (I know, because that’s what I did).
9. Having PPD doesn’t make you a bad mom. And getting help makes you a great mom. As we know, being a mom means doing hard things. But sometimes, the hardest thing is asking for the help you need. It’s important for women who have postpartum depression to understand that it’s not their fault they have the illness, and they need to reach out for help. The sooner you feel like yourself, the sooner you can truly enjoy all the wonders of motherhood.
For more information about postpartum depression and to get help, go to www.postpartum.net or try their hotline at 1-800-944-4773.
JD Bailey is the creator of the website and online community, Honest Mom, and writes to connect with other moms and raise awareness about women’s mental health. She’s been published in print and around the web, and is also a copywriter, social media manager, wife, and mom of two school-age girls.
This article was originally published on Oct. 13, 2015 on TODAY.com.