Postpartum depression (also known as PPD) is a serious condition that affects many women after childbirth. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and it can be diagnosed and treated so let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes and treatment involved.
The birth of a baby is one of the most beautiful and precious experiences in life and it can cause a variety of emotions such as joy and excitement to fear and anxiety and sometimes even depression. Most new moms experience what is known as the ‘baby blues’ after childbirth which includes mood swings, crying, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. These baby blues can begin about two to three days after birth and last for up to two weeks. However, some mothers experience a more severe and long lasting form of depression known as ‘postpartum depression’.
Research shows that this condition occurs in 14-20 percent of women and can be caused by a variety of factors such as hormones, neurochemistry and life history which can all play a role in the development of this condition. Both physical and emotional issues can play a role. Physical changes occur after childbirth as there is a dramatic drop in the oestrogen and progesterone levels in your body. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland may also drop sharply which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and depressed and this can contribute to PPD.
The emotional issues contributing to PPD come into play when you are sleep deprived and overwhelmed by handling even minor problems. You may feel and anxious about your ability to care for a newborn and feel less attractive, feel like you have lost your sense of identity and that you have lost control of your life.
Sometimes, the baby blues can lead to postpartum depression if the surrounding circumstances are unstable. The risk for this condition is higher for those with a history of certain circumstances or conditions such as:
- Personal or family history of depression, anxiety or other mental illness
- Previous postpartum depression
- History of severe premenstrual syndrome
- Sleep deprivation
- Chronic pain
- History of fertility treatments or miscarriage
- Abrupt discontinuation of breast feeding
- History of trauma or abuse
- Traumatic or disappointing birth experience
- Poor support system
- Marital or financial stress
- Substance abuse
- Having children when very young
There are many symptoms of postpartum depression which vary from person to person and not everyone is going to experience all of them, but it is important to be aware. These symptoms include the following:
- Irritability or anger
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems such as insomnia or excessive sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of interest in the baby
- Feeling disconnected from the baby
- Memory loss and difficulty concentrating
- Sense of guilt or shame
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Fear that you are not a good mother
If postpartum depression is not treated it can last for months or even longer and can lead to a chronic depression disorder and can also increase the risk of future episodes of depression.
It is important to go to the doctor if you feel like you are experiencing PPD so that the doctor can take the necessary measures to diagnose you. Usually the following methods are used:
- Your doctor will talk to you about your thoughts and feelings in order to establish whether it is a case of short-term baby blues or long-term depression.
- A depression screening is done, and you may be asked to fill in a questionnaire.
- A blood test may be ordered to see whether an underactive thyroid could be contributing to your symptoms.
- Other tests may be performed in order to rule out other causes for the symptoms experienced.
The treatment for baby blues and PPD and the recovery time vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the depression and your individual needs. If you have an underactive thyroid or any other underlying illnesses the doctor might treat those conditions or refer you to the correct specialist as well as recommend a psychologist for further assistance.
If you are suffering from the baby blues then please remember the following:
- Get as much rest as possible
- Accept help from family and friends
- Connect with other new mothers
- Make time to take care of yourself
- Avoid alcohol and drugs which can make mood swings worse
PPD can be treated in different ways:
- Psychotherapy, which is mental health therapy and talking through your feelings. By talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist it can assist in finding better ways to solve problems, cope with your feelings, set realistic goals and respond to various situations in positive ways.
- Family or relationship therapy can also be used as a way of working through your feelings and emotions which can be very overwhelming.
- Anti-depressants can be prescribed by your doctor.
Postpartum depression symptoms usually improve with the necessary treatment but do not stop the treatment when you are starting to feel better as stopping too early might lead to a relapse.
Some home remedy tips to overcome symptoms of postpartum depression:
- Always make time to take care of yourself by getting out of the house, taking up a hobby or some form of entertainment.
- Talk to others about how you are feeling.
- Ask others for help if you need it, whether that means allowing others to babysit while you take a nap or a break or asking other mothers for tips on how to care for your baby if you are unsure about something.
If you are planning to have a baby and you feel that you might be at risk for PPD as you have a history of depression in your family then please inform your doctor so that they can help you take the necessary preventative measures.
During pregnancy the doctor can continually monitor you for signs of depression and may ask you to fill in the depression screening questionnaires before pregnancy and after giving birth. In some cases, support groups and therapy sessions can be enough to get through PPD, and in others anti-depressants need to be prescribed. After giving birth, your doctor will continue to screen you for signs of PPD providing the necessary treatment as needed.
If you or someone you know are experiencing any of these symptoms please see a doctor as postpartum depression can be treated, and remember you are not alone.