What Does Postpartum Depression Mean?
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others.
In the first days and weeks after childbirth a new mother goes through a variety of emotions. She may feel many wonderful feelings including awe, joy and bliss. She may also experience difficult feelings including sadness. This type of sadness is often attributed to the dramatic hormonal changes that follow childbirth.
Causes Of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is so complex that it does not have a single cause. It likely results from a combination of physical and emotional factors.
After childbirth the levels of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in a woman’s body quickly drops. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition many mothers are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover after giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion which can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression.
The following factors can also increase one’s risk:
• Hormonal changes following childbirth.
• Emotional stressors, including financial strain, job changes, illness or the death of a loved one.
• Changes in social relationships or lack of strong support from family and friends.
• Raising a child with special needs or an infant that is challenging to care for.
• Having a family history of mental health issues.
While some women are predisposed to experiencing Postpartum Depression (PPD) can affect anyone including women who experience a normal delivery and give birth to a healthy child. By taking special precautions you may be able to reduce your risk of developing PPD.
The Signs And Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) up to 20% of new mothers experience one or more symptoms of PPD.
The common symptoms a woman may experience include:
• Feeling sad, hopeless, empty or overwhelmed for most of the day or for several weeks or more.
• Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason.
• Worrying or feeling overly anxious.
• Feeling moody, irritable or restless.
• Oversleeping or being unable to sleep even when her baby is asleep.
• Having trouble concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
• Experiencing anger or rage.
• Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable.
• Suffering from physical aches and pains including frequent headaches, stomach problems and muscle pain.
• Eating too little or too much.
• Withdrawing from friends and family.
• Having trouble forming an emotional attachment with her baby.
• Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby.
• Thinking about harming herself or her baby.
• Having feelings of anxiety, worry, panic attacks or racing thoughts.
PPD symptoms may start in the first few weeks following childbirth. Sometimes symptoms of PPD do not begin until months after birth.
Postpartum Depression In Fathers
Research on PPD have mostly focused on mothers but with further studies it is revealed that fathers also has a risk of experiencing PPD though a lower prevalence than in mothers.
Compared to mothers, fathers face lower levels of anxiety towards fatherhood and typically take less part in direct care for the child reducing their susceptibility to PPD. In addition researchers have depicted a positive correlation between maternal postnatal depression and paternal depression, most likely due to factors such as marital satisfaction; a strong predictor for PPD. Some studies propose that maternal depression plays a causal role in the development of postnatal depression in fathers.
Can PPD Affect Your Baby?
Yes, PPD can affect your baby. PPD can make it hard for you to take care of your baby. If you have PPD your baby may be:
• Having problems bonding with you.
• Crying a lot.
• Slow in learning to talk.
• Having behavioral problems.
If you see these signs in your baby go for medical attention. Getting treatment early can help both you and your baby.
Only a health care provider can diagnose a woman with PPD. Because symptoms of this condition are broad and may vary between women, a health care provider can help a woman figure out whether the symptoms she is feeling are due to PPD or something else. A woman who experiences any of these symptoms should see a health care provider right away.
Postpartum Depression, Baby Blues And Postpartum Psychosis Are They The Same?
The baby blues is a term used to describe the feelings of worry, unhappiness and fatigue that many women experience after having a baby. Babies require a lot of care so it’s normal for mothers to be worried about or tired from providing such care. Baby blues which affects up to 80% of mothers includes feelings that are somewhat mild, last a week or two and go away on their own.
With PPD feelings of sadness and anxiety can be extreme and might interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family. Because of the severity of the symptoms PPD usually requires treatment. The condition which occurs in nearly 15% of births, may begin shortly before or any time after childbirth but commonly begins between a week and a month after delivery.
Postpartum psychosis is a related mental health condition that can also develop after childbirth. This rare and serious condition includes symptoms of hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), paranoia and at times thoughts of harming one’s self or others. Some mothers have frequent thoughts about harming their children.
Are Some Women More Likely To Experience Postpartum Depression?
Some women are at greater risk for developing PPD because they have one or more risk factors such as:
• Symptoms of depression during or after a previous pregnancy.
• Previous experience with depression or bipolar disorder at another time in her life.
• A family member who has been diagnosed with depression or other mental illness.
• A stressful life event during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth such as job loss, death of a loved one, domestic violence or personal illness.
• Medical complications during childbirth including premature delivery or having a baby with medical problems.
• Mixed feeling about the pregnancy whether it was planned or unplanned.
• A lack of strong emotional support from her spouse, partner, family or friends.
• Alcohol or other drug abuse problems.
• PPD can affect any woman regardless of age, race, ethnicity or economic status.
Treatment For Postpartum Depression
Mothers with symptoms of postpartum depression should talk to their doctor or a mental health professional. Your doctor may recommend that you meet regularly with a counselor or that you start taking antidepressant medications. Often both types of treatment are recommended.
• Counseling/Talk Therapy: This treatment involves talking one-on-one with a mental health professional (a counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker). Two types of counseling has shown to be particularly effective in treating PPD are:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps people recognize and change their negative thoughts and behaviors and
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) which helps people understand and work through problematic personal relationships.
• Medication: Antidepressant medications act on the brain chemicals that are involved in mood regulation. Many antidepressants take a few weeks to be most effective. While these medications are generally considered safe to use during breastfeeding a woman should talk to her health care provider about the risks and benefits to both herself and her baby.
• Estrogen: This hormone plays an important role in your menstrual cycle and pregnancy. During childbirth the amount of estrogen in your body drops quickly. To help treat PPD your provider may suggest you wear an estrogen patch on your skin to replace the estrogen your body has lost. If you are breastfeeding check with your provider to see if the patch is safe for you to use as you can pass estrogen to your baby through breast milk.
What Can You Do To Help You Feel Better For PPD?
Lifestyle changes can also help to reduce some symptoms of PPD. Stay healthy and fit, do something active every day. Go for a walk or get back to the gym. Eat healthy foods which include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and lean meats. Try to eat fewer sweets and salty snacks. Get as much rest as you can. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps.
Don’t drink alcohol, it is a depressant which means it can slow your body down and make you feel more depressed. It also can interact with the medicine you’re taking for PPD. It’s never a good idea to drink alcohol if you’re breastfeeding because you can pass alcohol to your baby through your breast milk.
Don’t take street drugs. These affect the way your body works and can cause problems with the medicine you’re taking for PPD. You also can pass street drugs to your baby through breast milk.
Ask for and accept help. Keep in touch with people you care about and who care about you. Tell your partner, family and friends how you’re feeling.
Take time for yourself. Ask someone you trust to watch the baby so you can get out of the house. Visit a friend, get outside or do something you enjoy.
Lower your stress. Do the things you liked to do before you had your baby. Listen to music, read a good book or take a class. Do the things that used to make you feel good about yourself before you got pregnant. Plan for some time alone with your partner.
What Can Happen If Postpartum Depression Is Left Untreated?
Without treatment PPD can last for months or years. In addition to affecting the mother’s health it can interfere with her ability to connect with and care for her baby and may cause the baby to have problems with sleeping, eating and behavior as he or she grows.
How Can Family And Friends Help?
Family members and friends may be the first to recognize symptoms of PPD in a new mother. They can encourage her to talk with a health care provider, offer emotional support and assist with daily tasks such as caring for the baby or the home.
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