You were looking forward to getting your bundle of joy and finally, he is in your hands. But you do not feel happy or relaxed. Instead of basking in the bliss of being a new mom and celebrating your little one, you feel anxious, sad and weepy. In addition, you notice some dark thoughts about harming yourself or the baby are taking root in your mind. What could be the problem? Postpartum depression also known as PPD or postnatal depression is the most likely culprit.
If you are experiencing such feelings, you are not alone. Studies show that 1 out of 7 women in the US develop PPD. The condition would be much easier to deal with if mothers realized that the drastic mood swings and other symptoms occur due to rapid hormonal shifts that take place after birth. Unfortunately, most women mistakenly think that the reason they are experiencing these feelings is because they are not perfect mothers or should not have been mothers.
Postpartum depression or baby blues?
Postpartum depression should never be mistaken with a temporary condition that affects moms soon after delivery known as baby blues. Most moms experience some symptoms of sadness or weepiness after childbirth. This condition is a mild form of depression that is often short-lived known as baby blues. Baby blues are quite common and develop due to the sudden change in hormonal levels experienced after birth. The condition is also aggravated by stress, fatigue and sleep deprivation during and after delivery. Baby blues start within a few days after delivery and persist for about 2 weeks after delivery but usually resolve once hormone levels stabilize.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
Unlike baby blues, PPD is a serious problem and rarely goes away without some form of intentional intervention. Initially, the condition may seem like baby blues, however, it is more severe and last longer compared to the blues.
Common symptoms of the condition include:
Persistent feeling of sadness or empty mood
Feeling helpless, hopeless and guilt
Difficulty making decisions, remembering or concentrating
Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment including digestive problems, headaches and chronic pain
A general feeling of “this isn’t what I expected it to be”
Irritability, rage or anger
Excess worrying or anxiety
A feeling of disconnection or hostility towards the baby
Thoughts of death or harm coming to the baby
Rapid mood swings
In extreme instances, postpartum depression can manifest with the following signs:
Suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming the baby
Disorientation and or confusion
While the above are some of the main symptoms associated with PPD, not every woman experiences all of these symptoms. In addition, PPD has many other symptoms and just because a mom does not notice most of the above signs does not mean that she is not experiencing postnatal depression.
Causes of PPD
There is no one single factor or predictor of PPD. Rather the condition is caused by many complex factors. These include:
Women often joke or hear endless remarks about “hormones,” however, the truth is that hormones play a key role during and after pregnancy. Fluctuations of hormones during pregnancy is what causes physiological and psychological changes that make it possible for a woman’s body to accommodate and carry the pregnancy successfully for 9 months. While these changes are a miracle of nature, in some instances, they cause havoc.
At the most basic level, hormones such as progesterone and estrogen get elevated during pregnancy. Within 24 hours after childbirth, the hormones recede and return to normal levels. It is these huge and rapid adjustments in hormonal levels in the body that wreak havoc in the brain chemistry leading to baby blues, postpartum depression and in extreme circumstances, postpartum psychosis.
Parenting a newborn comes with new challenges that aggravate effects of hormonal changes in the body. These include:
Lack of sleep-before and after childbirth
Loss of flexibility and free time
Added challenges in the parenting relationship
Lack of time to engage in exercises
Pressure or strong desire to be the perfect parent
Teenage moms, women living in poverty stricken areas or women with less social support usually experience higher rates of postpartum depression. There is a possibility that the added pressure and stress experienced by these moms as they enter motherhood aggravates the other factors leading to increased risk of PPD.
Just like conventional depression, there is a genetic aspect to the condition. Women who have a family history of depression are at a higher risk of experiencing PPD. Similarly, women who have experienced depression in the past have a higher risk of developing PPD as well as women who struggle with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD. Basically, PMDD is an extreme of PMS and an indicator of the brain’s response to fluctuating hormones.
How to deal with postpartum depression
PPD is a complex condition and though at the most basic level it is a chemical issue, the condition cannot be addressed successfully using a single approach. While some women are able to deal with the condition through lifestyle adjustments, others require comprehensive medical and psychological interventions. Here is how to deal with PPD.
Develop social support
Opening up about your struggles on motherhood challenges with other moms within a social circle is one of the handy ways of helping you deal with the condition. While this may not necessarily alleviate PPD, having people around you who understand the condition will help you to affirm your sanity. In other words, PPD is not something to be ashamed off, it is not an indicator of a personal or character flaw. Instead, it is a disease just like any other. And when you come to think of the fact that as many 1 in 5 women struggles with PPD at some point in their lives, it means postnatal depression occurs more often than you might think.
Women with newborns often find themselves segregated which leads to loneliness. To deal with this, make a point to spend time with family and friends. While it may not be possible to have as much time as you had before the baby arrived, setting time to interact with others moms going through the challenges of handling newborns in a social setting is critical.
Set time for yourself
Setting time to pamper yourself is a great way of pushing back the dark cloud brought on by postnatal depression. Most of the time, new moms hardly have time for themselves since they are always occupied with their newborn’s needs. Unfortunately, in the process of taking care of your child, you are likely to lose yourself.
Taking good care of your mental and physical well-being will make you feel better. Even in the midst of all the duties that come with taking care of a newborn, you need to take a break from mom duties and find creative ways of pampering yourself including savoring a romantic cup of hot coffee or taking a long bubble bath.
Get enough sleep
Most women find it hard to sleep towards the end of their pregnancy. Once the newborn comes, getting enough sleep seems like an impossible task. When this is coupled with fatigue experienced during childbirth, you are likely to end up irritated and moody- a perfect recipe for depression. To help guarantee enough shuteye, enlist the help of family members or your spouse to watch over the baby while you catch some catnap.
Seek professional help
In some instances, a mom suffering from PPD need professional interventions to alleviate the condition. Talk therapy with a counselor is one of the helpful ways of treating the condition. A psychotherapist will not only help you to identify the root causes of your negative feelings, but also help you to work through the lifestyle adjustments that come with having a newborn.
Medication for postpartum depression
Though medication is not always necessary to treat postpartum depression, you may need to consult your physician especially if the symptoms are not improving and if you are experiencing persistent thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby. In such circumstances, your physician will prescribe the necessary medication to help balance the fluctuating chemicals in the brain and put you on the road to recovery. Most of the time, medical interventions work alongside social support and psycho-therapeutic measures to treat the condition.
Lifestyle adjustments help you to combat symptoms of postpartum depression. These include:
Paying attention to your nutrition-after all, you are what you eat
Scheduling regular exercise
Getting outside in the sunshine (photo therapy has been shown to have therapeutic effects on depressed people)
Ultimately, suffering from postnatal depression does not mean that you are not a good mother or should not have been a mother. Rather it is a common illness that affects many moms and can be treated in many ways effectively. If you are struggling with such symptoms after birth, take action and seek help. After all, being a new mom should be a time to celebrate your newborn. So, do not allow postpartum depression to take away the joy of bringing forth a new life from you. Take charge of your life.