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Is it normal to feel so low after giving birth? Add to ...

The question: I recently had my second child – shouldn’t this be a happy time for a mother? But I feel lost. It’s like I’m not living my own life any more. Is that normal? What should I do?

The answer: Having a baby can be one of the happiest moments in life … yet it is also high on the list of stressful life events.

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Most women experience myriad emotions after giving birth – excitement, happiness, elation and joy. In addition to the usual (expected) positive emotions, many women also experience low or sad mood, tearfulness, frustration or a sense of emptiness.

These negative emotions are often a surprising reaction to what most feel should be a unilaterally happy event. This experience, however, is extremely common. As many as 75 per cent of moms will experience the “baby blues,” which in addition to low mood can also include a general feeling of flatness or emptiness. Unfortunately, however, many feel a sense of shame in terms of talking about their negative emotions.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the baby blues. The delivery and postpartum process leads to significant hormonal changes. Progesterone levels – which play a role in mood, energy and libido, among other things – decrease dramatically to allow milk production to begin. There is a significant increase in adrenalin during delivery, and then a crash afterward. This, combined with the physical demands of birth and the associated sleep deprivation, understandably leads to a major impact on mood. In addition, there are substantive life changes that come along with the responsibility of caring for another human life. This can be compounded by already having one baby and can, not uncommonly, lead moms to feel overwhelmed and lost.

Most women find that their mood will lift within a few weeks as they get used to the baby and their new schedule, as hormone levels stabilize, and as mom and baby get into a routine. Talking about how you are feeling to those that are close to you can help. Joining a moms’ baby group in your community can provide you with additional support and may help you feel that what you are experiencing is normal. Ask those close to you for help in day-to-day things that feel overwhelming (housecleaning, grocery shopping, meal preparation). Build in short windows of time in which your partner or other trusted friend or family member can watch the baby while you get some time to yourself. Build in self-care activities, such as taking an uninterrupted bath, going for a walk or getting a massage.

If you are persistently feeling low, flat or empty for more than a month, you may benefit from seeking professional assistance. About one of 10 women will develop clinical levels of depression that are important to treat early on. Ask yourself if you are feeling low or flat more often than not for weeks or longer. Do you have a loss of interest in usual activities and things that you would normally enjoy? Are you experiencing significant appetite changes, persistent anxiety or pervasive irritability? If so, speaking to your nurse, midwife, doula or family doctor is important. They may suggest a referral to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

If at any point you feel you are at risk to harm yourself or your baby, immediately seek help and call 911.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at psychologist@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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