We're Igoring A Common Postpartum Sign And We Shouldn't Be: Anger

by Julie Scagell
Originally Published: 
Image via Getty/StefaNikolic

One in nine women experience postpartum depression, and anger is often a component

We’ve all been warned about the signs of postpartum depression after childbirth — extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. In fact, one in nine women will experience symptoms associated with postpartum depression (PPD). But one recent study examined an often overlooked postpartum symptom and one that can have devastating effects — anger.

A new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) says anger is something doctors are screening for during postpartum check-ups — but that until now, it has been largely ignored. “We see anger as a distress signal,” the study’s co-author, Christine Ou, told Today’s Parent. “Anger is indeed a normal emotion that we can all have, but being prone to anger can indicate there’s something going on that needs to change.” When a woman is both angry and depressed, the depression can last longer and be more intense, Ou found.

The research team analyzed data from 24 qualitative and quantitative studies from the past 25 years and found anger “was a salient mood disturbance for some postnatally depressed women,” and also that anger often accompanies depression. They found women often feel powerlessness along with anger, and those feelings of anger occur “as a result of expectations being violated.”

I suffered from PPD after my second child was born and anger was one of the most prevalent emotions I recall. I sat in a park one day when my son was about four weeks old and he wouldn’t stop crying. I remember rocking his stroller back and forth — hard — as I sobbed, thinking, “I just want to leave him here. I can’t do this anymore.” It is a horrifying feeling and not one women often feel comfortable talking about, even with their doctors.

Ou has a theory on why anger hasn’t been seen as a red flag before now: “Culturally, we often aren’t comfortable with the emotion of anger because it can imply that you’re not in control—especially for women.” Having a new baby is supposed to be a time of happiness and bliss, and if you don’t feel like that, it can be a shameful and isolating time.

“It’s very hard for women who are feeling depressed to even recognize that they’re depressed. Having this anger may also obscure women from going to talk to their healthcare providers because they think ‘I don’t feel sad; I feel angry,'” Ou said. “However, we want to say postpartum mood problems don’t always look like a sad, withdrawn mood.”

Not only is it important for women to recognize that anger may be a warning sign of PPD, but it’s critical doctors are also screening for this in all postpartum checkups.

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