Jillian Michaels welcomed a baby boy with her fiancée Heidi Rhoades over four years ago, and the fitness guru now reveals that the postpartum period was anything but easy. According to Michaels, Rhoades suffered from a mild form of postpartum depression, which was difficult to detect at first.
“The fourth-trimester stuff is so important because I wasn’t able to recognize that she had a certain amount of postpartum,” Michaels tells People in a new interview. “I didn’t know what was wrong, I didn’t know how to help her.” Michaels ended up writing about the experience in her new book, Yeah Baby!: The Modern Mama’s Guide to Mastering Pregnancy, Having a Healthy Baby, and Bouncing Back Better Than Ever, which she hopes will help other new moms. “I think just being able to say, ‘Hey, this is what was going on with Heidi.’ Boy, do I wish I had known then,” she said.
Postpartum depression impacts up to 19 percent of women, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include crying more often than usual, feelings of anger, withdrawing from loved ones, feeling guilty about not being a good mom or doubting your ability to care for your baby, feeling numb or disconnected from your baby, and worrying that you will hurt your baby. Feelings of postpartum depression are more intense and last longer than the “baby blues,” a term used to describe the worry, sadness, and tiredness many women experience after having a baby. “Baby blues” symptoms typically resolve on their own within a few days, while symptoms of postpartum depression persist.
Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF that postpartum depression is like many other illnesses in that there are varying degrees of severity. “Every woman is different, and not everyone is going to experience the same symptoms,” she says.
Karen Kleiman, L.C.S.W., director of the Postpartum Stress Center, and author of The Art of Holding in Therapy: An Essential Intervention for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, tells SELF that postpartum depression can manifest itself as mild, moderate, or severe. That means there’s a core set of symptoms that doctors use to diagnose the condition, but the degree to which it interferes with a woman’s ability to function varies. “Someone may still be able to go to work but come home and feel depressed,” she explains.
Kleiman says she actually worries the most about women with mild postpartum depression because they can slip through the cracks. “We can miss these women because they’re using extraordinary energy to look good, sound good, be good, but maybe wish this all goes go away,” she says. There is a difference between mild postpartum depression and just feeling like a run-down new mom. While the symptoms may overlap, those of postpartum depression last more than two weeks, Wider says.
It’s important to seek help for postpartum depression, even if you suspect that you have a mild case, because it can become more severe if left untreated, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology at The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, tells SELF. “A lot of women suffer from mild depression, but you don’t want tit to become major depression,” she says. “That’s where our worry is.”
Treatment for mild postpartum depression is mostly the same as it is for the other forms, although medication is typically not recommended, Kleiman says. That includes ramping up a woman’s support system—via her family, friends, and partner—which Kleiman says can “make a huge difference.” Women who suffer from mild postpartum depression are also encouraged to undergo talk therapy to help her differentiate between what they need to worry about and what they don’t. “Women with mild cases respond very well to this,” Kleiman says.
If you suspect that you have mild postpartum depression, don’t write off your feelings—depression is still depression. “It’s very important to seek help,” Wider says. “There is so much help out there, and many women feel a sense of relief knowing they aren’t alone.” That can mean talking to your ob/gyn or family practitioner about your feelings, or going straight to a mental health professional, Shepherd says. However you decide to seek help, starting the conversation is crucial.
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