Postpartum Depression: Are the new mothers to be blamed?

The pregnancy and the birth can trigger several emotions ranging from joy and enthusiasm to fear and anxiety and sometimes, even, depression. Most new mothers experience “baby blues” after childbirth, which mostly include- mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. The baby blues usually begin around 2-3 days after delivery and may last for about two weeks. About one out of every 10 of these women will develop a more severe and longer-lasting depression after delivery. About one in 1,000 women develops a more serious condition called postpartum psychosis

However, one must bear in mind that post-partum depression doesn’t develop due to the person’s own weakness or inability to cope with life; mothers need not to be blamed for developing post-partum depression. Rather, it’s simply a complication of giving birth. Considering a mother as the culprit mostly does more harm than any good.

Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues initially. But the signs and symptoms of post-partum depression are more intense and last longer, and may eventually interfere with the mother’s ability to take care of her baby or handle other daily life chores. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may also begin earlier like- during pregnancy or even later like around a year after the child’s birth.

Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities that person used to enjoy
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fear of not being a good mother
  • Hopelessness or feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • The mother may have the thoughts of harming herself or the baby
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.

Postpartum psychosis

It is a rare condition in which signs and symptoms are even more severe which may include:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Obsessive thoughts about the baby
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Excessive energy and agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Mother may attempt to harm herself or the baby

Postpartum psychosis could lead to life-threatening behaviors and therefore, requires immediate treatment.

Causes-

Although there isn’t any single cause but some of the common causes may include-

  • Physical changes/hormonal factors- After childbirth, a dramatic drop in hormonal levels mainly, estrogen and progesterone in the mother’s body may lead development of postpartum depression. An acute decline in the thyroid hormones could also lead to the mother feeling tired, sluggish and depressed.
  • Emotional issues- The birth of the child might make the mother anxious about her ability to care of the newborn or the mother may feel less attractive, struggle with her sense of identity or feel that she has lost control over her life. Often when she is sleep deprived and overwhelmed, she could have trouble handling even minor problems. Any of these issues can contribute to postpartum depression.

Risk factors-

Although anyone can develop post-partum depression, however, risk may increase in some cases:

  • The mother has a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times
  • Mother has a history of bipolar disorder
  • Mother had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy
  • Family history or having family members with depression or mood disorders
  • Having experienced stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss
  • baby has health problems or other special needs
  • having twins, triplets or multiple births
  • difficulty breast-feeding
  • having problems in relationship with spouse or significant other
  • having a weak support system
  • financial problems
  • The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted

When should a one seek professional treatment?

Untreated postpartum depression can be dangerous for mothers as well as their children. One must seek professional help when:

  • Symptoms persist beyond two weeks.
  • she is unable to function normally.
  • she can’t cope with everyday situations.
  • she has thoughts of harming herself or her baby.
  • she is feeling extremely anxious, scared, and panicked most of the day.

Treatment-

How Is Postpartum Depression Treated?

Postpartum depression is treated differently depending on the type and severity of a woman’s symptoms. Treatment options include anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, psychotherapy and participation in a support group for emotional support and education. For severe cases, intravenous infusion of some medications may also be prescribed.

In the case of postpartum psychosis, hospital admission is also often necessary.

If breastfeeding, even then the medications can be taken for depression, anxiety, or even psychosis under the doctor’s supervision.

Prevention & Tips for coping with after-birth stress and anxiety:

  • Ask for help – let others know how they can help you.
  • The mother must set realistic expectations for herself as well as her baby
  • Exercise -within the limits of some restrictions that the doctor may place on mother’s level of activity; she can take a walk or just go out of the house for a break.
  • Expect some good days and some bad days.
  • Follow a sensible diet; avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Fostering the relationship with the partner 
  • Staying in touch with family and friends – she should not isolate herself
  • Limiting visitors when she first goes home.
  • Sleep or rest when her baby sleeps.

If a mother has a history of post-partum depression or a history of depression, she should inform it to the doctor when she gets pregnant.

  • During pregnancy- the doctor can monitor the mother closely for signs and symptoms of depression. He/she may have her complete a depression-screening questionnaire during her pregnancy and after delivery. Sometimes mild depression can be managed with support groups, counseling or other therapies. In other cases, antidepressants may be recommended, even during pregnancy.
  • After delivery- the doctor may recommend an early postpartum checkup to screen for signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. The earlier it’s detected, the earlier treatment can begin. If someone has a history of postpartum depression, the doctor may recommend antidepressant treatment or psychotherapy immediately after delivery.

And last but not the least, to break the stigma associated with the mental health related issues because they are never a person’s own fault. A person suffering from depression or any other mental-health related issue should not be considered as weak or a coward. Such ideologies prevent the people from seeking help most of the times, which often results in disastrous consequences. All they need is some support, compassion, care and empathy from our side!

#Content created by Akanksha Mahajan

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