Not every new mother is overjoyed with the arrival of baby — a look at banishing postpartum depression.
You’ve just had a baby – you should be feeling on top of the world, yet a lot of new mothers feel less than their best, and some are really down in the dumps. Many new moms feel sad and tearful on or near the third day after the birth – the so-called “baby blues.”
This is most often due to hormonal changes, which usually calm down within about two weeks. However, about one in ten mothers will suffer some form of postpartum depression, a more serious condition that may begin up to six weeks after birth and last as long as 12 months. And a very small minority of women (one in 1,000) may suffer from postpartum psychosis, a severe, psychotic condition that can require hospitalization. Although serious, most mothers recover fully after treatment with antipsychotic medications.
If you think the baby blues affect most new mothers, you’re right. Feeling tired and losing interest in sex, for instance, is part of being a new parent, so it can be hard to tell if you’re depressed or just exhausted. But with postpartum depression, symptoms are more persistent, and don’t improve after a break or a good night’s sleep. A woman with postpartum depression may lose her confidence in coping with everyday events, and often believes that she’s the only one who feels this way. This is not true, of course. As many as 400,000 mothers each year suffer the symptoms of postpartum depression.
Mild postpartum depression probably affects about seven percent of mothers. It often goes away on its own or with support from a physician or therapist. Full-blown postpartum depression is more severe and, for the three percent or so of women who develop it, it can last for several months.
Who Gets Blue
No one’s entirely sure of the cause of postpartum depression. Hormone levels may have a lot to do with the short-lived baby blues, but it’s uncertain what part they play in true postpartum depression. It may be that some women are more sensitive to fast-changing hormone levels.
Any previous mental health problem increases the risk, so you should let your doctor know if you have a history of mental illness in your family. Getting help early on in your pregnancy can preempt problems that are likely to continue after the birth.
Postpartum depression is more common in women who have a lot of conflict in their lives, or for whom pregnancy was unplanned. First-time mothers, especially, may have difficulty reconciling the reality of caring for a baby with their rosy expectations. Other factors may include a difficult pregnancy, delivering a baby with medical problems, or stressful situations such as moving house, a death in the family or divorce.
The bottom line is it can strike anyone — rich or poor, single and alone or settled in a happy, supportive marriage.
Beating the Blues
There are lots of different avenues of help, so begin by approaching someone you trust. Your ob/gyn, family physician and neonatal nurse all have expertise in this area. Talking to them is the first step in getting help. Whatever you do, don’t keep quiet about how you feel. It’s not fair to you, or to your baby.
For many women, just talking about their emotions is the most important part of dealing with them. Don’t hold back when explaining your symptoms. No one will judge you or think that you’re inadequate just because you feel low.
Alternatively, you may be referred to a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression. Attending sessions may be a challenge, but it’s good for you to get out of the house – and you can take your baby with you if there’s no one to look after her.
Talking to your partner is a good idea, too. If you don’t, then your other half can’t appreciate how you feel. At a time like this, you need your partner’s support and involvement. Not all partners understand depression and the range of emotions women may be feeling at this time, but many are prepared to help with chores and baby care, which can ease your burden.
Antidepressant medication prescribed by a doctor can help with both prenatal and postpartum depression. Most are not addictive and many are safe for your baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is likely to make a depressed mother feel better and more attached to her baby. If you are planning to breastfeed, discuss this with your obstetrician or lactation consultant. Some precautions may be needed if you are taking medication.
Even if you are taking antidepressants, you may still need some form of counseling, however informal. You’ll also need a follow-up session with your physician or mental health professional to see how you’re doing.
To learn more about coping with postpartum depression, including a list of local and regional support groups, visit www.depressionafterdelivery.com/Home asp.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
- Feeling low, especially in the morning
- Crying for no obvious reason
- Losing interest in things you enjoy
- Feeling tired all the time
- Loss of appetite and interest in sex
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Feeling helpless or unable to cope
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping, especially waking up too early.
Dr. Carol Cooper, a GP and writer on parenting, is the author of The Baby & Child Question & Answer Book (Dorling Kindersley, 2004). www.cwcomms.com