According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey, 20% of mothers of 24-month-old children and under suffer from postpartum or postnatal depression. A majority of these mothers reported having depression from the time of pregnancy until after their child turned one. Learn about the causes and symptoms of postpartum depression, effective treatments for the condition, and ways to protect yourself and other mothers from succumbing to a depressed mood.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a cluster of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms that can develop weeks after birth. There are several risk factors associated with the condition, including postpartum blues, traumatic stress during or after birth, and lack of support from family and friends.
Postpartum depression is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment. It can be an especially vulnerable time for women with mood disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia and substance-induced mood disorder, among others.
Postpartum depression is a treatable condition, but treatment must begin immediately in order to prevent negative effects on the child and mother-child relationship.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
It's normal for a new mom to feel tired staying up to nurse her baby, change their wet diapers, and to just enjoy motherhood, but it's quite another when she experiences mood swings, feelings of worthlessness or tears that can't be controlled. She may be suffering from a postnatal depressive disorder. Among other postpartum depression symptoms are:
- Lack of sleep or insomnia
- Hopelessness or guilt
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Difficulty bonding with the infant
- Symptoms of anxiety disorders
- Postpartum blues
- Feeling like you do not want your baby
- Suicidal ideation
- Panic attacks
Following childbirth, the postpartum period usually lasts six weeks; however, women with postpartum depression may continue to experience depressive symptoms well after this time. However, some women recover after only a couple of weeks. It really depends on the quality of the care they receive as well as how they manage their depression during pregnancy.
Causes of Postpartum Depression
The causes of postpartum depression are unclear, but postpartum blues is considered to play a role. Postpartum blues affect up to 80% of new mothers after giving birth. Symptoms of postpartum blues are similar to postpartum depression, but they generally last less than two weeks after delivery.
Biological, psychological and social factors increase the risk of postpartum depression. Biological postpartum depression risk factors may include sleep deprivation, post-birth surgery or hormonal imbalances. Psychological factors for postpartum depression may include genetic vulnerabilities, previous episodes of depression and stressful life events such as financial problems and death in the family, while social risk factors may include lack of family support, cultural or religious expectations of postnatal care and feelings of social isolation.
Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression
It is important that women with postpartum depression seek immediate treatment. Despite the common belief that postnatal depression only affects new mothers and occurs shortly after giving birth, postpartum depression can begin anytime during the first year of postpartum and may lead to psychotic symptoms if not diagnosed immediately.
Treatment for postpartum depression must begin as soon as signs and symptoms appear (the sooner, the better). Treatment options include lifestyle changes such as increasing rest and exercise and social interaction as well. Mothers with postpartum depression might benefit from combining medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), with psychotherapy facilitated by a therapist trained in cognitive behavioural therapy.
Diagnosis of Postpartum Depression
In order to identify the best treatment approach to postpartum depression, a mental health professional will encourage the mother to talk openly about her thoughts and feelings. Using this approach, they can determine if she is suffering from postpartum baby blues or severe symptoms of depression.
During the diagnostic process, the health professional may also request that the patient fill out a questionnaire or order a blood test to determine if hypothyroidism is a contributing factor to their symptoms.
How to Prevent Postpartum Depression
Because postpartum depression has many risk factors, it is helpful to talk with the relevant health professionals before the baby arrives. Here below are other powerful ways to combat postpartum depression:
- Pre-conception counselling may be beneficial for women who had suffered symptoms of depression before or have a family history of postpartum depression. Talking to a doula can help.
- A mother can build her self-esteem and strengthen her relationship with her child by participating in postnatal support groups
- Postpartum seclusion, which is confinement after childbirth, increases the chances of developing postpartum blues, if not postpartum depression, so it would be best to for one to engage in regular social interaction
- In addition, consulting a nutritionist for postpartum diets can help lactating mothers cope with stress
- Practise relaxation techniques or get in touch with a meditation or yoga teacher to reduce the risk of postpartum depression
A woman shouldn't feel ashamed when she experiences postpartum depression. It is a result of the biological, psychological, physical and emotional changes she experiences during and after pregnancy and childbirth. Keep an eye out for its telltale signs and get help immediately so that you, or the new mother in your life, can live a greater quality of life.