What is postpartum depression?
They say pregnancy and having a baby is supposed to be the happiest event of your life. Everyone gets excited about the idea, but having a baby is not always what you expect, even if your baby is the cutest one ever born! Having a baby is challenging, both physically and emotionally. It is natural for many new mothers to have mood swings after delivery, feeling happy one minute and depressed the next. These feelings are sometimes known as the “baby blues” and usually start within three days of giving birth and lasting up to 14 days. Up to 80% of mothers experience these blues. Symptoms include sadness, crying spells, poor concentration, and irritability. Reassurance and understanding of what’s going on, taking care of yourself and getting support will help you to feel better. These feelings usually pass without treatment.
Some women, however, after a pregnancy, may experience a deep and ongoing sad mood and depression, which lasts much longer. This is called postpartum depression. This depression can begin at any time within four weeks post-pregnancy, and may last up to several months or even a year. Postpartum depression is a common condition that can be effectively treated and prevented. The sooner the condition is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment.
Below are some typical symptoms. If you have been feeling any of these symptoms for more than two weeks post pregnancy you may have a postpartum depression.
- Sad and tearful mood
- Worn out, but unable to sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Overwhelmed and can’t concentrate or make decisions
- No interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Restless, irritable or angry
- Anxiety, you may feel this as aches, chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness, tingling or “lump” in the throat
- Not yourself
- Ashamed, hopeless or frustrated
- A bad mother or person
- Feelings of inadequacy, guilt, worthlessness
- Not bonding with the baby, afraid to be alone with the baby
- Have repeated scary thoughts about the baby, or of harming the baby
- Suicidal thoughts
How common is it?
Almost 15% of women will suffer from some degree of postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders after pregnancy and the birth of a baby. Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing. Despite the sensational stories in the media, postpartum depression it is not unusual or scary. It is actually quite common.
What causes it?
It is not your fault. It is not a sign of weakness and you don’t have to suffer and tough it out. The exact cause of this disorder is not known but physical, hormonal, social, psychological and emotional factors may all play a part in triggering this condition. It is important to understand that this is a medical condition and you did not bring it on yourself.
Some women are more likely to develop this disorder. You are more at risk if you have:
- Been depressed or anxious during your pregnancy
- A history of clinical depression and/or other mood disorders
- Family members with mood disorders
- Had a recent stressful life event such as a move or a loss in the family, or complicated pregnancy, labour or delivery
- Little social support
- Relationship difficulties with close family members
- Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
How is postpartum depression treated?
There are many safe treatments. As with any medical condition, speak with your health care provider to consider risks and benefits to decide what is best for you. Therapy, support networks and medicines such as antidepressants are used to treat postpartum depression. Counseling and psychotherapy has been shown to be an effective treatment and an acceptable choice for women who wish to avoid taking medications while breastfeeding. Sometimes both treatments may offer the best outcome. And social supports by a public health nurse, friends and family can help.
How can family help?
Family can best help by assisting with meals, laundry, shopping etc. Trying to help by taking care of the baby may be more fun but can undermine a new mother’s confidence in her parenting and interfere with the new bond between mother and child. If you are concerned about a family member developing postpartum depression, encourage them to seek out support and to get checked out by their health care provider. If invited, you can offer to accompany them to their initial appointment and convey your concerns.
Coping with postpartum depression
Firstly, remember that you are not alone and you are not to blame. Here are some suggestions for coping:
- Focus on short-term, rather than long-term goals. Build something to look forward to into every day, such as a walk, a bath, a chat with a friend
- Look for free or inexpensive activities; check with your local library, community centre or place of worship
- Take care of yourself. Try to rest when possible, eat healthy foods and get some fresh air and exercise.
- Getting as good night’s sleep as possible and sleep assisting medications might be helpful.
- Take time for yourself. Accept offers for help with household chores and brief baby-sitting so you can have a break.
- Spend time with your partner and/or close friends if available
- Share your feelings and ask for help
- Consult your doctor and look for a local support group
- Go to your local emergency room anytime if in crisis (thoughts/plans to hurt yourself, others or baby).
For further information about postpartum depression contact a community organization, health care provider or your family doctor to find out about support and resources available in your community.
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