There are many strong emotions associated with birthing a child - joy, fear, excitement, and anxiety, among others. It is not unusual for moms who just birthed to experience what is referred to as “baby blues”, which is characterized by mood swings, sleeping difficulties, crying spells, and bouts of anxiety. As easy as it comes, baby blues also easily goes, maybe two or three weeks after onset. However, there are cases of baby blues evolving to a more severe state that is long-lasting, and detrimental to overall health and wellness. At this point, the condition is now identified as postpartum depression.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of loneliness and desperation that are severe enough to disrupt someone’s life, particularly daily activities, career, and relationships. Postpartum depression is a type of depression that mainly affects women after childbirth, although men can also be afflicted with it. It is relatively common, afflicting 1 out of 7 women who have just given birth, according to a study. Unlike the common baby blues that goes away after a few weeks, postpartum depression lasts longer, compromising primarily the bond between the child and the mother.
Postpartum depression can start anytime within the year after delivery, although in most cases the tell-tale signs strike in the first few weeks after childbirth. Mothers high in emotion is not a curious scenario, and hormones being blamed for this is not a groundless issue. These are some of the reasons why people and mothers themselves ignore the signs of a budding depression.
Mood swings, crying spells, fatigue, and sleeplessness are normal occurrences after delivering a child. Postpartum depression has these symptoms as well, yet in severe, debilitating levels. Other indications of postpartum depression are:
If postpartum depression can be described as a situation, it will be like accidentally falling into a bog. No matter how hard you try to move yourself out of it, you fall deeper. Helplessness and inability to control your fate fuels your desperation, until such time that the bog reaches your neck and you can’t entirely move. It is a difficult situation to find yourself to be and life-threatening if not resolved immediately.
Postpartum depression is easy to miss if both the mother and immediate family surrounding her ignore the signs of the illness, often mistaking them as normal and temporary. Oftentimes, the depression has already developed into a more debilitating state to finally cause alarm and push the family to get the afflicted to a doctor. Diagnosis mainly involves discussing with the doctor your feelings, history, behavior, and outlook about life at the moment. Your response to the doctor’s questions is used as the basis for evaluation.
A series of blood tests and other medical analyses may be done to see if you have prevalent conditions such as an underactive thyroid, which may have caused the onset of depression or contributed to its worsened state. Other tests and screening may be ordered by the doctor to rule out other possible reasons for your symptoms.
The treatment approach to postpartum depression is very much similar to the treatment of clinical depression. Aside from medications, talk therapy or counseling is employed. Self-care is also important. There are natural alternatives to drugs for depression, such as the herb St. John’s Wort, although studies backing its effectiveness are still a subject of debates among experts. There is also the concern about using herbal medicines for nursing moms. It is important to consult a doctor first before taking such medications.
The treatment methods vary from one patient to the next, depending on the severity of depression, current lifestyle, and prevalent health conditions. For instance, if you have a thyroid problem or chronic stress, most doctors work on treating those first before curing your depression.
Common antidepressants such as SSRIs (selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin nonepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are similarly prescribed to people suffering from postpartum depression. These drugs work by balancing the biochemicals in the brain. There are antidepressants that are safe to take even if you breastfeed, such as the SSRI drug sertraline, and some TCAs (tetracyclic antidepressants). This is beneficial because breastfeeding is a crucial bonding tradition between a mother and her child.
It is important, however, to be aware of the latest scientific studies in this regard, so discuss them with your doctor. New studies come up with different conclusions all the time, and what has been deemed safe previously by past research may actually have dangerous ramifications as found by recent studies.
Not taking antidepressants due to concerns over their effects on breastfed children is not recommended because depression may return or turn for the worse if treatment is suddenly stopped. Meds for patients with postpartum psychosis, on the other hand, are stronger, and therefore less likely to be prescribed to nursing mothers.
Most doctors recommend undergoing counsels or talk therapies together with regular intake of antidepressants for a given period of time, to ensure that the patient is able to function normally, and ultimately be free from depression after a time. The most common therapies employed for postpartum depression due to their reported effectiveness are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy.
CBT focuses on identifying and addressing negative behaviors and thoughts that affect your mental health. The goal is to change or redirect such thoughts and behaviors to improve your social and problem-solving skills, relax the mind, and take pleasure from activities. CBTs usually cover 6 to 10 sessions, although they may be lengthened depending on the level of your postpartum depression.
IPT is centralized on the improvement of your relationships, particularly with your child, spouse, and other members of your immediate family. It also aims to guide and assist in your transition to parenthood. IPTs take a minimum of 12 sessions.
Other treatment therapies used to treat postpartum depression aside from CBT and IPT are light therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The latter is employed when depression hits a severe and threatening level that borders on psychosis.
Optimum health is being healthy in mind, body, and spirit. Enthusiasts and practitioners of an alternative approach to health and disease treatment believe that diseases ensue when there is an imbalance among the three. Medical studies may be limited to support this concept but an inkling of truth must exist if the approach is gaining significant fame among health enthusiasts, and even among experts.
For instance, practicing a balanced lifestyle, healthy diet, and regular exercise does not just benefit the physical body, but mental health as well. It boosts the mood, improves sleep, and strengthens the immune system – all of which are essential to curbing postpartum depression and its symptoms. It also helps keep a happy disposition in life. Being of optimum health may not guarantee 100% safety from developing depression, but at least it equips you to get a fighting chance.
Postpartum depression is mostly blamed to hormonal imbalances that normally occur during pregnancy and after delivery. These hormonal imbalances affect the brain and its chemicals, resulting in drastic mood changes and other mental health complications. Stress is also a culprit or a major contributing factor. Babies can be very demanding, causing sleeplessness for both parents. Mothers and fathers with personal problems that involve family, relationship with spouse, financial difficulties, and problematic delivery are more likely to develop postpartum depression as well.
Previous depressive episodes before or during pregnancy increase the risk of developing postpartum depression. Studies show that one-third of women diagnosed with postpartum depression has suffered from depression prior to getting pregnant. A similar percentage of diagnosed women had depression while pregnant.
Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) involve hormonal shifts that trigger depression. Fertility problems and stressful procedures undergone to conceive amplify a woman’s vulnerability to postpartum depression after delivery. Genetics has a key role to play as well. A person with a history of mood disorders running in the family may develop depression at least once in his lifetime.
There is no certainty on how long postpartum depression lasts. It may go on for several months to a few years. In some cases, the illness doesn’t go away but is just temporarily tampered down and eventually returns in full swing. Other patients remain undiagnosed and untreated for several years despite having depression, albeit in fluctuating levels.
Anxiety, helplessness, and unfounded feelings of guilt hound parents suffering from postpartum depression. These negative emotions result in withdrawal and isolation. The mother may develop overwhelming worry over her capability to care for her child and family, thus straining her bond with her child and possibly, spouse. She may choose to stay away from her newborn, thinking that someone might do her job and responsibility better as a mother, say, for example, her husband, mother, or in-laws. She may also react negatively towards the child, or worse, harm her own child.
The baby may have development, sleeping, and health problems due to the lack of security and emotional bond with its mother. The missing attachment will stay until the child grows old, resulting in a strained or difficult relationship, and possibly behavioral and social problems.
Naturally, such an arrangement will not sit well with the husband, especially if no one knows that postpartum depression is already clouding their family. Divorce is more likely to happen during the first year after delivery, even without postpartum depression in the picture, because having a baby is stressful enough for a couple relationship. The husband may feel that his wife is not pulling her weight, despite doing his best as the family’s provider.
Postpartum depression affects men, too. They experience the same symptoms as mothers and may develop the disorder due to similar causes. Financial trouble is a heavier trigger of depression for men, because of their role as the family’s main provider. Likewise, the strained relationship with family, isolation, and other negative effects of postpartum depression are experienced by depressed fathers as well. However, men are quicker to get back on their feet than women after a bout of depression, but less likely to reveal emotions and seek help.
It is unclear why some pregnancies lead to miscarriage during the first trimester, although chromosomal anomalies have been the usual suspect. Miscarriages can be heartbreaking and traumatic. The strong negative emotions associated with it can trigger depression, resulting in symptoms very similar to what mothers with postpartum depression suffer from. Severe guilt and anxiety over a miscarriage and the fear of it happening again can compromise a woman’s capacity and desire to conceive again.
If you’re feeling extremely sad, anxious, or miserable after childbirth, it’s best to get help as soon as possible. It may be just the harmless baby blues, but it is better to be safe than sorry. The reluctance and shame in revealing inner thoughts and emotions, particularly if they’re negative, encourage afflicted mothers and fathers to ignore the early signs of depression and hope that their symptoms will pass. Such a mentality can be devastating in its aftermath. Not only does the afflicted suffer, but the children and other members of the family as well.
As soon as you feel the blues, reach out to your significant other, family, and friends. Call a doctor to know more about your condition, and get the appropriate measures for its treatment. Again, it is better that you find earlier that it’s just a false alarm, rather than suffer the consequences later. If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, immediately call the attention of your spouse or immediate family who can care for the baby, and seek help from your local emergency.
If you’re a family member who has just had a new child in the family, observe the mother and/or the father for any signs of baby blues or depression. Some cases of depression are too debilitating that the afflicted cannot care for himself/herself. Be the vigilant observer and seek immediate help if you think that your loved one is suffering from postpartum depression. However, reach out with the affected family member first and show your love and support. Trust is important to convince a depressed person in accepting medical assistance.