A new baby being introduced to the world is a reason for a celebration. However, the excitement, fear, and anxiety can trigger an unexpected feeling of depression. Postpartum depression is different from the “baby blues,” which is essentially caused by the changing of hormones and lack of sleep. Postpartum depression is a serious illness that can last for months, even if there was a miscarriage or stillbirth. Women who are affected have reported feelings of deep sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness. These feelings can get in between the mother and the baby bonding at an essential time in both their lives. If the depression becomes too severe, the mother may develop postpartum psychosis, a dangerous situation for herself and those around her. It is necessary for everyone involved to understand the symptoms and treatments so that the depression can be treated and healthy relationships can begin to form.
As previously mentioned, postpartum depression may appear to be the “baby blues” at first. However, when the symptoms become more severe and long-lasting, they interfere with the mother’s ability to handle daily tasks. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability and anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of interest in sex
- Lack of joy in life
- Feeling of shame, guilt and/or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Withdrawal from family and/or friends
- Thoughts of harming herself or others
These feelings of sadness or hopelessness appear every day as the mother has lost interest in her daily activities, and if they last more than two weeks, it is more than likely postpartum depression. It becomes harder for her to focus or make decisions, so she may not seek help on her own. If the depression goes untreated, postpartum psychosis may kick in. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of this psychosis include:
- Confusion and/or disorientation
- Hallucination and/or delusions
- Attempts to harm herself or the baby
If any symptoms of postpartum psychosis exist, seek medical attention immediately.
Causes and Risk Factors
There is not one single cause for postpartum depression, instead, it is a combination of the sudden hormone change that takes place after birth, along with other physical and emotional changes. Changes in blood pressure, blood volume, metabolism and lifestyle all combine to create an experience that the woman has not handled before, even if it is not her first childbirth. There are also risk factors that increase the odds of a woman’s likelihood to slip into depression. For example, those with any of their own history or family history containing events of depression or bipolar disorder have an increased risk of postpartum depression. Stressful life events, such as moving, financial troubles, pregnancy problems and a lack of support may also increase the odds of a mother developing depression during or after the childbirth.
It is essential to seek help if you are experiencing postpartum depression to help you along the way to recovery. During routine checkups, the doctor may ask the mother about her moods and activities to get a better idea of how she has been coping with the life change. The doctor may also run blood tests, like a thyroid exam, to make sure that the body is healthy and will not trigger any depression symptoms. Once the mother is diagnosed, a doctor may implement a routine specifically designed to help her. These treatments may include a combination of therapy and medication. Therapy or counseling with a trained professional is recommended not only as a treatment, but as a way of monitoring the level of depression with the mother. Many counselors and therapists will hold group sessions for new mothers, but they also offer private home visits. These sessions can even include other family members if necessary. For those who do not want to be on medications, counseling provides undivided attention and better ways of coping with feelings. Many mothers choose to use medicinal drug treatments. The most common medications are anti-depressants because they are proven to treat depression. This is often a temporary prescription until the mother feels comfortable with managing the stress and anxiety on her own. However, it is important to discuss with the doctor the effects that will take place on not only the mother, but her breast-milk. Together, the doctor and mother can help weigh the pros and cons of particular medications. As a few postpartum tips after pregnancy, pay attention to the mother’s feelings and actions and make healthy lifestyle choices. A healthy mother, inside and out, will be able to better understand setting realistic expectations with a newborn baby. While it is important that she does not isolate herself, the mother also needs to be able to make time for herself. Most importantly, she and her family need to stay positive.