Having a baby and entering into the role of a mother is challenging, and you might undergo a roller coaster of emotions during this period. From being happy to feeling sad, these emotional highs and lows affect the mental health of a new mother. If you are experiencing these severe mood swings and this has started to interfere with your life, you may be experiencing postpartum depression.
Before we discuss how to prevent postpartum depression, let us dwell on what is postpartum depression and the categories to understand more.
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Postpartum depression is the type of depression that affects you after childbirth. The new responsibility of caring for the baby and lack of sleep and alone time for yourself results in mood swings and depression in women. The hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth also play a role in constant emotional highs and lows. These physical, emotional, social, financial, and hormonal changes after having a baby lead to postpartum depression.
The symptoms of Postpartum depression start showing after a few days post-delivery, weeks or it can even take a year to manifest. You may experience constant mood swings. Frequent crying, anxiety, and feeling emotionally drained are some symptoms of postpartum depression.
If you are feeling depressed, do not feel guilty or alone. Almost 15% of new mothers are affected by postpartum depression after delivery.
Postpartum depression after childbirth affects women and can affect both mom and dad, adopted parents, and surrogates.
Types of postpartum depression
After giving birth, women can experience mood disorders. According to the intensity of these mood disorders, postpartum depression is categorized into three different types.
These are mentioned below:
Baby blues or postpartum blues:
Baby blues are the most common form of postpartum depression affecting nearly 70 – 80% of women. This condition can happen right after a few days of delivery and can last up to one to two weeks. It is caused by the sudden change in hormone levels after delivery along with stress and sleep deprivation.
You could be experiencing baby blues if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- frequent and prolonged bouts of crying for no apparent reason
- mood swings
- feeling sad, cranky, and restless
- anxiety and loneliness
- change in eating and sleeping habits
- feeling overwhelmed
These conditions only last up to two weeks post-delivery and subside on their own without any treatment. The best way to overcome this situation is to get enough rest and have a good support system. You can join a support group of new mothers and also seek support from family and friends.
Baby blues are mild depression, but if the symptoms prolong even after a few weeks, you may suffer from postpartum depression.
Do not confuse postpartum depression with baby blues. Postpartum depression is much more severe than baby blues and needs medical intervention. Postpartum depression can occur within a few days postpartum or even take months. The symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to baby blues, but it affects much more severely and lasts much longer.
Postpartum depression symptoms include:
- fatigue and insomnia
- finding yourself distancing from your partner and family
- loss of interest in your hobbies
- lack of motivation
- not being able to bond with the baby
- feeling guilty
- Losing interest in things that you used to enjoy
- getting suicidal thoughts
- lack of interest in your baby and feeling anxious around your baby
- thoughts of hurting your baby
If you identify yourself with these symptoms, seek the help of your health care provider. Untreated postpartum depression can cause the symptoms to escalate. So do not hesitate to reach out and get help from your support group. Proper medication and counseling can help treat postpartum depression, and you can enjoy your motherhood.
Postpartum psychosis/ severe postpartum depression
Postpartum psychosis is the most severe form of postpartum depression. Fortunately, it is also the rarest form of mental illness, occurring in 1 to 2 out of every 1000 pregnancies. Postpartum psychosis affects new mothers very suddenly after delivery. It can occur within 48 hours or 2-3 weeks after giving birth.
The symptoms of postpartum psychosis include:
- losing touch with reality
- hallucinations and delusions
- feeling agitated and restless
- suicidal thoughts
- rapid mood swings
- thoughts of hurting your baby
Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency, and immediate medical treatment is needed in these cases. In most cases, hospitalization, psychotherapy, and medication are needed as the depression is severe and can cause harm to both baby and the mother.
Causes of postpartum depression
The research on biological causes of postpartum depression is only in the initial stages. The drastic increase in the estrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy and sharp decline just after delivery could be the biological factors that contribute to postpartum depression.
Some of the psychological and social risk factors that cause postpartum depression are listed below:
- complicated pregnancy
- prior history of depression or premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- uncertainty regarding your pregnancy
- strained relationship with partner or family
- family history of mood disorders
- stress during pregnancy
- lack of support system
- lower social class
- unemployment/instability during the pregnancy period
- poor relationship with mother
- history of sexual abuse
- depression during pregnancy
Apart from these, having a perfectionist personality can also cause postpartum depression in women. being a perfectionist causes them to impose unrealistic expectations on themselves. These expectations only lead to an increase in postpartum anxiety.
The link between chemical changes happening in your body and postpartum depression is still unclear. It is hard to pinpoint a single risk factor that causes postpartum depression.
Treatment of postpartum depression
Women’s mental health is important during the time of pregnancy and also during the postpartum period. Most women feel guilty over feeling sad or depressed during this time, which society has deemed the happiest time of a woman’s life. This stigma has prevented women from seeking medical treatment or even talking about how they feel. Studies have shown that only 15% of women seek treatment for postpartum depression.
The treatment of postpartum depression varies according to the severity of the depressive symptoms.
Postpartum depression treatment options include:
Psychotherapy (also called talk therapy or mental health counseling) and medication are often the best ways to cope with feelings of postpartum depression. Talking to a good therapist helps you deal with the adjustments of motherhood.
Participation in a support group for emotional support and education will also help cope with postpartum depression.
Antidepressants may be an option when the postpartum depression symptoms begin to affect your ability to function and take care of your baby. Most women are reluctant to take medication for depression while breastfeeding. Do not assume that these medications are harmful when you breastfeed. It is advised to consult your healthcare provider and take treatment accordingly as there is substantial evidence that proves their relative safety.
Hormone therapy includes estrogen replacement therapy that sometimes helps in the treatment of postpartum depression. Estrogen is often mixed with antidepressants. While undergoing this therapy, ensure with your healthcare provider that this method is safe for you as there are risks involved.
For postpartum psychosis treatment, hospitalization is often needed. The treatment may also include medication to treat depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
Complications of untreated postpartum depression
Postpartum depression if left untreated can cause severe damage to you, your baby, and your loved ones.
If the treatment for postpartum depression is not taken at the right time, it can last longer and turn into chronic depressive disorder. The chances of getting depression in the future are high even with the treatment.
The depression in a new mother can affect the father too. Also, the children of depressed mothers are likely to be moody and cranky. These children can also develop erratic sleeping and eating patterns and could show delays in language development.
CAN POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION AFFECT YOUR BABY
Neglecting postpartum depression treatment not only affects you. Your baby is also at risk if you delay your treatment for postpartum depression.
Your baby may be affected in the following ways:
- trouble bonding with your child
- Your child may have learning problems.
- your baby may have sleeping issues
- Your baby may have impaired social skills.
- your child is at a higher risk of being obese
- your child may have development disorders
When you experience postpartum depression, you are likely to neglect your child care. You might show little interest in playing with your baby. So it is necessary to get treatment if you are having postpartum depression symptoms. Also, continue your appointment with your health care professional until they give you the green signal to stop the medication.
Ways to cope with postpartum depression
Pregnancy is an overwhelming experience and it is okay to feel so. Parenting a baby is hard. Many women are often ashamed to speak out about their depression as the pregnancy period is generally considered a happy moment.
This notion has prevented many women from seeking treatment. Postpartum depression causes mothers to feel detached from their babies. And these feelings inhibit them from confiding these thoughts even to their confidante.
But you do not have to suffer this alone. Talk about how you feel to your health care provider and follow the treatment plan.
Apart from this, here are some ways that can help you cope with postpartum depression:
- Exercise when you can
- join a support group of new moms
- get into a healthy diet routine
- prioritize your self-care routine
- take time to rest
- resist isolation
- increase your intake of fish oils
- open up about your feelings to either your doctor, friend, or family
- create a secure attachment with the baby
Along with these coping mechanisms, it is of utmost importance to seek treatment when you notice that you have postpartum depressive symptoms.
How to prevent postpartum depression
It is not completely possible to prevent postpartum depression. Inform your doctor if you have any previous history of depression when you get pregnant or when you are planning to get pregnant.
It is important to closely monitor for depression symptoms like negative feelings, anxiety, and restlessness during your pregnancy period. Either you or your registered healthcare provider can monitor these symptoms. Medications are given even during the pregnancy period to treat mild depressive symptoms.
Early diagnosis can prevent the risk of postpartum depression from getting severe. Also, postpartum depression is not confined to your first pregnancy only. There is an increased risk of getting depressed during the second or third pregnancies if you were diagnosed with postpartum depression during your first pregnancy. In such cases, your doctor may start your treatment early.
Given below are some tips that can help you prevent or lessen the effects of postpartum depression. Following these tips will also help you in the transition to motherhood.
Join a support group
Knowing that you are not alone in this can help your mind at ease. Talking to other mothers who share the same feelings can help in reducing your anxiety. By joining these groups, you can reassure yourself that you are not alone in feeling this mix of joy and frustration. It gives immense relief knowing that other moms also share your worries and insecurities.
There are many organizations and new mom support groups that offer help to new mothers and parents. You can join one of these groups near your neighborhood.
Avoid isolating yourself as it only helps your anxiety to escalate. Keep yourself connected with your family and friends. Share your feelings with them and let them know that you need their support. Enjoy being pampered by your loved ones rather than isolating yourself. Maintain the company of other adults even after postpartum, as social interaction has been one of the proven methods for reducing the risk of depression.
The risk of getting depression is much lower when you have a good relationship with your loved ones. Make the relationship with your family and friends a priority to void the risk of getting postpartum depression.
Maintain a good relationship with your partner
Make time for each other and foster your relationship with your partner. The stress of taking care of the baby and household chores can make you frustrated, and you might take it out on your partner. Avoid blaming each other and keep the lines of communication open. Know that you are in this parenting role together.
With a baby who needs your constant attention and care, it is difficult to carve out some alone time with your partner. But it is essential to spend some quality time reconnecting with your partner.
Research has proven that exercise has an antidepressant effect on women with postpartum depression. It has been proven that women who did exercises before and after the birth of their baby tend to be more social and more emotionally balanced than women who did not. Exercise doesn’t mean going to the gym or overdoing it. Taking a walk and getting some fresh air is found to be a significant way to reduce depressive moods.
Doing some yoga poses like stretching is also highly beneficial. Make exercise one of your daily routines, and do not stop postpartum. Also, get approval from your health care provider before doing strenuous exercises.
Ask for help
Always ask for help- be it your partner, a family member or a friend. Do not hesitate to seek help when you need it. Assuming that you can go through this alone is wrong. Let your loved ones know that you need their help and support.
By allowing others to help, you will get time to take care of yourself. Take a bubble bath or go bash in some sunshine while your baby is safe and cared for by your partner or family member.
Get enough sleep
Studies have found that women who get less sleep are at a higher risk for postpartum depression. Getting enough sleep not only rejuvenates your body but also refreshes your mind. As it has been said since earlier times, sleep when the baby sleeps. Many women tend to catch up on their work when their baby is asleep. But if you are not getting enough sleep, the plausibility of getting depressive symptoms is very high.
It can get difficult to squeeze in some sleep with a baby who needs 24-hour attention. If you are breastfeeding, clocking in 6 – 8 hours of sleep might seem an impossible task. You can try pumping some milk before going to sleep so that your partner can take care of the baby while you get some quality sleep. Also, try to take short naps in between during day time.
Maintain a healthy diet
It is often seen that mothers neglect their food while taking care of the baby. It is essential to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet during the weeks following the postpartum period. Having a healthy diet has a huge impact on your mood and the quality of your breast milk.
You can try preparing quick and nutritious snacks ahead of time and planning the week’s meals on weekends. Ease into the habit of eating healthy as a nutrition-rich meal can instantly uplift your mood.
Also, increase your intake of omega- 3 fatty acids like DHA as it has been found that women with low levels of DHA have a higher rate of postpartum depression. You can achieve this by including seafood in your diet or flaxseed oil in cases where you are vegetarian.
Try to limit visitors when you bring your baby home. The weeks following the childbirth are the times for you and your baby to bond. As a new mother, your anxiety level will be at its peak. Everyone will be waiting to see your baby and coddle your bundle of joy at home. Everyone would be eager to give advice and pointers to a new mom. New pieces of advice are always welcome, but sometimes it can get suffocating.
So only welcome visitors when you are ready and have time to entertain them. Do not risk your mental health for pleasing others.
Practicing self-care is one of the most beneficial steps in preventing postpartum depression. Do not neglect yourself following the weeks postpartum. You need to take care of yourself – it’s as essential as taking care of your baby.
Find time to do things that make you feel good. The postpartum mood disorders that you might experience could be alleviated by allowing yourself some quality time to enjoy yourself. Concentrate on your mental and physical well-being to enjoy the period of motherhood.
Have your perspective and be realistic in your expectations
The deep-rooted stigma that motherhood is one of the happiest moments in a woman’s life has created a huge impact on their expectations. This unrealistic expectation causes anxiety and distress in women, leading to postpartum depression.
Understand that motherhood is not just weeks or months postpartum. You need not be a perfect mother the minute your baby is born. Parenting is a trial and error process where you have years to perfect it. Accepting the fact that everyone’s perspective is different goes a long way.
With the chemical changes happening inside your body and the life-altering changes happening outside, setting an unrealistic expectation for you and the baby would only lead to anxiety and distress.
Helping a new mother with postpartum depression
Most often, postpartum depression cannot be prevented. You can only cope with postpartum depression by taking antidepressant medicines and following self-care routines. If your loved one is experiencing postpartum depression, offer your support and provide maximum help.
Ways to help if she is your partner
- encourage her to open up about her feelings
- help her around the house
- make sure she takes care of herself
- be patient if she is not ready for sex
- spend time with her
- encourage her to seek help
Along with these, make sure to take care of yourself too, as it gets hard dealing with a new baby and a depressed mother.
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