Babies

Postpartum Depression Is a Hidden Epidemic and Chrissy Teigen Is Helping Everyone Talk About It

So many moms stay silent on the topic when all they need is help and support. 

Chrissy Teigen is refreshingly honest when it comes to how hard post-baby life is. And her struggles with postpartum depression are helping other moms open up about what they experienced after bringing baby home — it’s not always rainbows and butterflies and #newmomlife.

In fact, the more moms talk about it, the more come forward to admit they too were suffering from PPD, which can range from slight feelings of being “off” to full-fledged suicidal thoughts. None of which are ideal when you have a newborn at home you are trying to keep alive.

As for Chrissy, she seemed to have the perfect life. But when she admitted she couldn’t leave the house for days on end and barely ate following the birth of her daughter Luna, she didn’t realize she would help a ton of moms first admit they were suffering, and then seek help for PPD.

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She recently spoke about fearing PPD would return after she gives birth to her second baby with John Legend, saying, “Do I worry about it with this little boy? I do. But I also know that I feel like when it does happen, if it does, I'm so ready for it. I have the perfect people around me for it. That's why I really stand for a good core group of people around you.”

In 2017, Chrissy penned a personal essay that revealed the new motherhood she was projecting on Instagram was BS. “Before this, I had never, ever — in my whole entire life — had one person said to me: ‘I have postpartum depression,’” she wrote, adding, “Because the word depression scares a lot of people. I often just call it ‘postpartum.’” Maybe I should say it, though. Maybe it will lessen the stigma a bit.”

Other stars like Adele, Brooke Shields, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Hayden Panettiere have helped by talking about their own struggles with PPD, and now women are exploring preventative measures, from prescription meds to holistic programs that are helping keep PPD at bay or at least alleviate it a little if they have another child. (Moms who've had one bout of postpartum have a 30-50 percent chance of getting it again.)

While a doctor can help you navigate your feelings, so can support groups, a major step in healing after baby is born. “I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody and I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone,” Chrissy says.

Personal Space spoke with one woman who started who started a holistic postpartum wellness program, Betterpostpartum.com, even after she experienced her son’s birth with the help of a midwife and a doula, and ended up suffering from PPD soon after. 

Soon after giving birth, Natalie Telyatnikov started experiencing severe insomnia and had a difficult time breastfeeding. She felt like she had to do everything herself — and do it right. She had no idea it could be postpartum depression.

“There’s so little education and awareness surrounding what the symptoms are," she said. "I never in a million years would have guessed what I was going through — even though looking back it’s obvious,” she says.

With no baby nurse on hand, doing every mom task herself would give Natalie an excuse for everything she experienced — weeping, getting overly emotional, feeling tired. “I assumed this was the normal hormonal fluctuation for a first-time mom,” she says.

“I was also having trouble sleeping and I didn’t know to classify it as anxiety. I had convinced myself that I was supposed to be on duty for my newborn 24/7 and tend to his every need. I put so much pressure on myself, always trying to be the best mom. These thoughts were consuming me. I was being a martyr, and I was killing myself.”

Natalie says just because you’re not thinking of harming yourself doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong. Listen to your own body and needs. And get help.

“Eventually, I gave all of my energy to my son, and I couldn’t keep up my house or my appearance. I was really barely functional. And all the while, I thought this was normal, tired mom 'stuff.' I kept thinking: I have to keep pushing through, we’ll hit a milestone and it will change.’ It was well over a year before I realized what was going on.”

Not one doctor or health specialist pointed a finger at postpartum depression or anxiety for Natalie. “I was so sick that I was literally throwing up and on the bathroom floor and my body shut down and I went to the emergency room,” she says. “What ended up happening was that the ER said that nothing was wrong, when I knew something was wrong. I did my own research and I started to realize that a lot of my symptoms were adrenal.”

Natalie had adrenal fatigue, which some doctors told her wasn’t even a “real” condition. “I had so much pushback, but I decided to believe in myself. I did a strict elimination diet and reprogrammed my body and within days it worked,” she says.

She cut out gluten, dairy, and refined sugars, and that was the magical trifecta. “Within days, I went from from 0-3 hours of sleep to 5-6. By eight weeks, I was sleeping 7-8 hours per night--so I had found the answer. The adrenal fatigue happened as a result of my postpartum depression that went unchecked for so long. Longterm depression and anxiety can put such stress on your nervous system," she says.

She can now recognize the symptoms in others, and is all about spreading the word. "Absolutely no one showed me the way, but my life is proof that I’m right,” she says.

Her program, BetterPostpartum, helps women prepare for a happier, healthier postpartum. It is designed to help women prevent or alleviate the symptoms of postpartum depression, or any perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, so that they can have the best possible fourth trimester and beyond.

"There are things you can do to set yourself up for the best postpartum recovery--focusing on nutrition, sleep, hormones--these are the things you can manage to combat the emergence of PPD.”

PPD is actually quite controllable if you were to experience it, Natalie adds, saying that hiring help and reaching out to friends and family is key. So is knowing the symptoms and seeking support.

“I was scared of having a second child, but I did not have even a wink of PPD because I prepared,” Natalie says. “The truth is, you’re only able to be the best mom possible when you put yourself first. Give yourself as much as you can, including 40 days to rest to prevent organ prolapse and bleeding out… Give yourself permission to have time, space, help, and rest.”

For her, nutrition ended up being one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle. For people who are symptomatic, depression is tied to your gut health and imbalances can manifest as depression. To think you can lessen the intensity and duration by merely changing your diet is helpful.

There are more ways to seek help, she adds. In some cases, birth itself can be traumatic. “Knowing your resources is key. There are specialists called 'birth story listeners,' who are trained to help you process your birth. You can talk about your experience and heal.”

Another postpartum challenge that leaves some mothers feeling depressed is having trouble breastfeeding. "It's not always the case that it just works,” Natalie says.

“It’s all manageable if you know how and where to turn to make things better,” she says.

Sleep is integral to a mother’s post-birth recovery, and a sleep specialist can talk to you about what to expect and how to improve sleep for whole family.

It’s also a stressful time for you and your partner. “Non-violent communication is a method that is basically effective at taking the anger and resentment 'piece' out of your arguments with your spouse. It teaches you how to talk about your feelings in a way that can’t be denied and refuted, and it comes in very handy to resolve arguments peacefully, once you have a new baby.”

Natalie says enough with the silence surrounding PPD, and “it's crazy” that there is so little education surrounding PPD, and that the many different manifestations of postpartum depression symptoms so often go un-helped and unrecognized.

“Between 11 and 20 percent of women who give birth each year in the U.S. exhibit symptoms of postpartum depression,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability and feelings of guilt and hopelessness that characterize the condition can appear any time in the first year after giving birth.”

For Michelle Muller, who founded Little Spoon organic baby food company with her friend Lisa Barnett, her own excruciating PPD led to her starting the company.

Lisa tells us that the two founded the company because they couldn’t stand what they were seeing on supermarket shelves for infants — the seemingly harmless foods are so packed with chemicals and sugars they can make your baby sick.

“We focused on bringing better quality nutrition to families,” Lisa says.

When Michelle, a mom to three boys, experienced PPD, she found herself alone and overwhelmed. Her parents were in Texas while she lived in New York, and her husband was working long hours at the time.

“She was really feeling alone,” Lisa says.

Michelle, who loved to cook, wanted to give her babies fresh, organic foods, but found the time to prep, make and store the food was too much in addition to everything else she had to do as a mom.

“She was watching a rise of mom influencers on Instagram tell her that she should be doing everything while she’s experiencing a real illness,” Lisa says. “It encouraged her to build a company we believe is important to human health. Feeding time is overwhelming and usually it falls on the mother.

“We did not want to make anything that could sit on a shelf in the grocery store,” Lisa says, explaining they use the same technology as cold-pressed juices to lock in all the fresh properties of the food, which can be stored for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

The idea is to make it super simple for parents to get the right nutrients to baby for brain development and growing bones. Getting away from processed food makes mom feel better, therefore alleviating some of PPD.

“Michelle had a hard time coping, feeding was so important but she couldn’t get herself to cook all the food for the child. The hope was Little Spoon related to struggling to parents who cannot do it all. It helps feeling overwhelmed, the most common word parents use with feeding.”

Angela Rubin, a mom of two from New York, also shared her story with Personal Space, saying that about two days after she had her first child back in 2013, she started feeling “very, very odd” and unlike herself.

“Normally, I am a very laid back, calm, cool, collected person. I love challenges and handle adversity very well. I'm also not particularly emotional — I don't cry easily,” she says. “But suddenly, I was almost comically anxious and emotional. My baby had jaundice and needed to be put under lights, which is extremely common. I was so unspeakably upset about this and sat in my bed sobbing. When we went home, it got worse. I would cry on and off for absolutely no reason. I was insanely anxious — so much so that every time I looked at my beautiful healthy baby, I would get upset because I just assumed something bad was going to happen.”

It was all she could think about, and found with the bad thoughts occupying her brain, she couldn't enjoy the little coos and funny facial expressions of her baby. When her mom would call to check in, all she could think was, "She sounds so happy. It will be so hard to call her and break the news when something bad happens."

“To be clear, I never thought about doing anything bad,” Angela says. “I just was anticipating something bad happening, which is not like me at all. I am a glass half full, super optimistic person. I hated that I was having these thoughts and hated that I felt so off. It made me feel guilty, like I didn't deserve to have a baby and would be a bad mom. I kept thinking I shouldn't have had a baby (even though I really wanted one). I refused to let my husband or anyone else know I was feeling this way because I was so ashamed.”

Instead, she would tell her husband she needed a nap, but really go into the bedroom, shut the door and cry. For hours. For no reason at all.

“When my daughter coughed, I'd freak out,” she adds. “I felt totally overwhelmed. I also was having trouble breastfeeding, and that made things even worse. Normally, I am all about solving problems. At this time in my life, I was paralyzed, unable to talk rationally with a doctor, my husband, my mom, or anyone without bursting into hysterics. I thought for sure this wasn't normal and I was just a terrible parent.”

About two weeks after the baby was born, it was a Saturday, and Angela was in her room, “as usual crying over nothing.” “My husband and baby were in the living room, just relaxing. All of a sudden, literally out of nowhere, the clouds parted and I was back to normal. Literally just like that.”

“Suddenly I couldn't understand why I was in my room away from my husband and baby on a snowy day when I could be out there cuddling. Suddenly I wanted to call my mom and talk about the adorable things my daughter was doing, and discuss breastfeeding with my husband. Suddenly I wanted to solve problems and play with my kid and take pictures and be excited. Suddenly I knew my kid would be fine, and I was acting like a totally reasonable human. Suddenly I was back to myself. I went inside and hung out with my family and never felt even a hint of those emotions ever again. It was the weirdest thing.”

Except apparently it's not that weird, she explains.

“Once I was back to myself, I was comfortable asking my family and friends about it, and almost every one of my mom friends confirmed they felt this exact thing.”

“That they were hysterical and anxious and worried and overly emotional,” she says. “They had trouble feeling like parents and questioned if they could do it and felt overwhelmed. They were unreasonable. My doctor told me it's called the Baby Blues, and over 70 percent of moms get it for varying periods of time. I was shocked no one ever warned me about it, except I wasn't, because when I was feeling it I was so ashamed I didn't tell anyone either, not even my husband. There's so much pressure out there to be ‘perfect’ as parents that to admit any moments of weakness seems wrong. So people don't talk about it.”

Now Angela says she warns any and every pregnant friend about what happened to her so they don't feel so alone. “I thought I was crazy. If I knew this was so common I probably would have handled it a little bit better.”

She also just had her second child and was ready to feel PPD all over again, but got lucky. “I didn't feel it at all, my son is now almost three months old and I haven’t felt any of those emotions. But I was happy to see flyers all over the hospital asking if moms are feeling off, feeling anxious, feeling sad, etc. The flyers said ‘you are not alone. This is normal.’ It's great to see that in four years since my last baby, this is being talked about so much more. I realize that there are way worse emotional reactions to pregnancy (full-blown postpartum depression), and that's scary, because this was a terrible thing to go through.”

When New Jersey native Lesley Neadel had her first daughter in 2011, she had PPD symptoms starting in the hospital. “As soon as I had her, she had low blood sugar and needed to eat more than whatever breastmilk could provide, she needed formula. When they took her away to feed her I started feeling ‘I’m a horrible mom…I let them take her away. I should have been able to handle what she needed.”

Lesley says over the next two or three weeks, it got worse. After having her spinal cavity punctured when the doctors did epidural, she had to lay flat and that didn’t work with a baby.

“I had the most supportive partner in the world, but it was a tornado of things that came together in an epic downward spiral,” she says. “We went home from the hospital and it got worse; baby had colic, I’m crying, not sleeping, not eating, I would literally stare at her and wait for her to cry.”

Even with a baby nurse for three weeks, Lesley says she was a “shell” who couldn’t eat or sleep.

“I know a lot more now, they manifest in different ways, I had zero connection with my daughter, I was going through the motions,” she says of the time. “Since I suffered in the past seven years I have started to talk about it to anyone who will listen. A lot of people say ‘enjoy every moment,’ I say ‘get ready for the biggest roller coaster of your life.’ The other thing is these illnesses are a spectrum. I didn’t want to do anything with my daughter. Other people present as no one else can touch their daughter. everyone is different.”

Through regular therapy and medication she began to see the light and understand it wasn’t just “baby blues,” as some people dismissed it to her.

“To me [therapy and medication] was the first sign of hope. I had thought this was my new normal with the baby. I was trying to burp and feed this monster for the rest of my life, and you think you’ll never climb out of it. When you’re pregnant, the world caters to you, and then the baby comes and the shift goes 100 percent in the other direction. For first-time moms, it’s a huge adjustment that people minimize.”

Lesley says if she had been armed with information, she would have realized postpartum depression takes many forms. “If you don’t have this classical description of depression, you think you don’t have it. It should be ‘here are the risk factors, take this screening tool, if you have three of them talk to your doctor.’”

There’s a huge void where education on PPD should be and shame in admitting it — and there shouldn’t be.

“Mine was such a drastic mood change. Friends noticed I wasn’t myself. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I don’t want to play with her.
I went to a therapist when she was three weeks old and I literally word vomited all over her, I told her all I was feeling. She said to me there is nothing you said I haven’t heard before and I never saw someone not get better.”

And that changed everything.

“I saw her two to three times a week and like clockwork six weeks later [with the time for the medication to kick in] suddenly one day, I was swaying and holding her and it was clockwork. I was almost like a textbook therapy and medicine case. And self-care was a huge part, just getting a manicure…because my symptom was lack of wanting to interact, for me I had to do that forcing myself to be with her and that made it worse,” Lesley says.

Through talking to other moms and reading a ton on the subject, Lesley learned about the spectrum of postpartum depression.

“Postpartum rage is on the spectrum, anxiety, rage, sadness, crying,” she says. “Intrusive thoughts happen. If you’re standing at top of stairs and you can envision something horrible happening, it scares the living daylights out of you. No one has told you those happen. They are all part of spectrum disorders.”

And all very normal. But in the age of social media, moms like to present a flawless vision of motherhood to the world, when in reality it's just making everyone feel worse.

It took Lesley two years to even contemplate having a second child, which she did — and the postpartum depression was more like an anxiety because she was armed with the knowledge and tools she needed to get through the post-birth weeks and months.

“No one will understand the stigma. As soon as you say you have depression people ask if you’re going to drive your car off a bridge,” she says. “There’s a shame associated with any mental health complication and it keeps a lot of people suffering in silence. It’s so underreported and women try to white knuckle through it…It can happen to anybody and it does.”

No matter where you live, postpartum depression resources are available 24/7. Visit postpartum.net or call 1.800.944.4773 for help.

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