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Health: Recognizing Postpartum Depression


As any mother will tell you, the birth of a child is a tremendously emotional experience.  Moms feel joy, happiness, relief and pride.  They can also, however, experience fear and anxiety.  Indeed, some even experience profound depression over this life-changing event.

For many moms, this depression will take the form of temporary blues, a mild sense of sadness that might last a few days or weeks.   But some moms will undergo something more intense--postpartum depression.  According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 10 percent of new moms experience postpartum depression--a more severe form of depression that can develop within the first six months after giving birth.  Postpartum depression can create feelings that are so intense that they interfere with daily tasks.  In extreme cases, postpartum psychosis can develop.

It is important to keep in mind that if you do experience depression after childbirth it is not a reflection on you.  It is not a character flaw or weakness.  If you are feeling blue, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms--and enjoy your baby. 

But you need to be on the look out for symptoms to help you determine just how serious the depression is.  Signs of the ordinary baby blues may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Crying
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion
  • A sense of inadequacy

Often the baby blues will just fade away.  But additional signs and symptoms that are more intense and longer lasting may appear, evidence that you are sliding into postpartum depression.  According to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic these may include:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Lack of joy in life
  • A sense of emotional numbness or failure
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Lack of concern for yourself or your baby
  • Excessive concern for your baby
  • Less interest in sex
  • Severe mood swings
  • Impaired thinking or concentration
  • Insomnia

In its most intense form, the depression can turn into postpartum psychosis--a rare condition that develops within the first six weeks after delivery.  In addition to the previous signs, the symptoms here include:

  • Fear of harming yourself or your baby
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Paranoia

If you are experiencing mild depression after childbirth, there are several things that you might consider when tackling the problem.  According to the Mayo Clinic, these include: 

"Physical changes.  After childbirth, a dramatic drop in estrogen and progesterone may trigger depression.  The hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply--which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and depressed.  Changes in your blood volume, blood pressure, immune system and metabolism can lead to fatigue and mood swings.

Emotional factors.  When you're sleep deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor problems.  You may be anxious about your ability to care for a newborn.  You may feel less attractive or struggle with your sense of identity.  You may feel that you've lost control over your life.  Any of these factors can contribute to depression. 

Lifestyle influences.  Many lifestyle factors can lead to depression, including a demanding baby or older siblings, difficulty breast-feeding, exhaustion, financial problems, and lack of support from your partner or other loved ones." 

 If you are feeling depressed after your baby's birth, it might be difficult for you to admit it.  You might feel ashamed or embarrassed.  Or you might consider it proof that you are bad mother.  You should not feel any guilt about experiencing depression.   Get plenty of rest and accept help from family and friends. Seek out new moms so that you can go through the emotional swings together.  If the symptoms last for longer than a few weeks, or they become so severe that they interfere with you ability to function, it's important to call your doctor.  The earlier you reach out for help, the sooner you can recover.   If you start to develop the symptoms of someone in postpartum psychosis, seek medical attention immediately.  It can literally lead to life-threatening situations for you and your baby.

You may need counseling and medication to manage your postpartum depression. A good counselor will help you find better ways to cope with your feelings.   Medication may also be necessary.  This might take the form of taking antidepressants for a short period of time and/or estrogen replacement to help counteract the rapid drop in estrogen that accompanies childbirth.  Work closely with your doctor to determine which treatment will work best for you. With professional assistance and appropriate treatment, postpartum depression usually goes away within a few months.  However, don't feel discouraged if it takes longer.  In some cases, women have lingering symptoms for months or years. 

In addition to receiving medical help from your doctor, make healthy lifestyle choices to speed your recovery.  Get adequate rest, exercise on a regular basis, eat plenty of good foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), and avoid alcohol.  Don't put undue pressure on yourself. Scale back your expectations and, when you need it, ask for help with household duties.  It is critical that you make time for yourself.  The best way to take care of your new baby and your family is to take good care of yourself 

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