While you may expect fluctuating hormones associated with pregnancy, many women are blindsided by depression following childbirth. Many new moms will experience the "baby blues" for a few days or weeks after childbirth, but only about 10 percent will struggle with the more severe postpartum depression within the first six months after childbirth.
If you suspect you're experiencing postpartum depression, take comfort in knowing that it is not a weakness on your part. The Mayo Clinic encourages new moms that, "Experiencing depression after childbirth isn't a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it's simply part of giving birth. If you're depressed, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms -- and enjoy your baby."
How do you tell the difference between the baby blues and depression? The blues may include mild anxiety, sadness, irritability, crying, headaches, exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings may last a few days to a few weeks, and although they are troublesome, they won't greatly interfere with your daily functioning. The blues will eventually diminish on their own with time.
Postpartum depression takes the blues one step further in both its intensity and duration of symptoms. Depression will affect your daily life and your ability to function in your normal activities and even the care of your infant. In addition, depression will include more serious symptoms such as continual fatigue, lack of joy, feelings of failure, withdrawal from loved ones, lack of concern for yourself and your baby, lack of sexual interest, severe mood swings, concentration difficulties and insomnia.
Even rarer than postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis, which develops within the first six weeks after childbirth. In addition to the symptoms of depression, women with this condition experience extreme and severe symptoms such as fear of harming herself or her baby, confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. If you experience any of these psychosis symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Many various factors can contribute to this condition, such as changing hormones, sleep deprivation, struggles with self-image or identity, feeling you've lost control over your life, handling the pressures of parenting other children while caring for a newborn, having difficulty breastfeeding, experiencing financial pressures, and receiving little support from your husband and family.
Women most at risk of developing postpartum depression include those who have a history of depression or postpartum depression, severe premenstrual syndrome, or have experienced stressful events during pregnancy (such as illness, premature birth, difficult childbirth). Additional risk factors include having a difficult marriage and experiencing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. And while many women assume this is a problem with first-time mothers, it can happen after the birth of any child.
Don't be embarrassed to tell your doctor about your symptoms, even if you think they are mild or trivial. And definitely talk with your doctor if the symptoms last longer than a few weeks or they interfere with your daily life. Seeking treatment early will help in the recovery process. In fact, if left untreated, the depression can last for longer than a year.
Seeking treatment for depression is critical. The Mayo Clinic warns, "Untreated postpartum depression can interfere with mother-child bonding and cause family distress. Children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression are more likely to have behavioral problems, including sleeping and eating difficulties, temper tantrums and hyperactivity. Delays in language development are common as well."
If you are diagnosed with postpartum depression your physician may recommend counseling, antidepressants, hormone therapy or a combination of these treatments. Your doctor will take into consideration factors such as whether or not you are breastfeeding, since any medications you take will be passed on to your baby. With treatment, your depression should disappear over a few months, although some women have lingering symptoms for longer.
In addition, take practical measures in your lifestyle to help your recovery process. Maintain a healthy, nutritional diet. As your childbirth recovery allows, exercise regularly. Avoid drinking alcohol, which acts as a depressant. Set realistic expectations for yourself, your husband, and how much you can accomplish. Designate some time each day for yourself -- take a nap, a warm bath, or visit a friend. As soon as you are able, go on a date night with your husband. Talk with your husband, family, friends and possibly a counselor about your struggles. Consider participating in a support group for moms with postpartum depression.
If you experience any of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis, seek help immediately, because psychosis may lead to thoughts and behaviors that are life-threatening. If you are a risk to yourself or your baby, you may need to be hospitalized until you are safe. Treatment will likely include antidepressants or hormone therapy. In some cases, you may be prescribed anti-psychotic agents, lithium, and even electroconvulsive therapy. While the treatment for psychosis may seem overwhelming, they are necessary to ensure your safety and the safety of your infant.
Although postpartum depression is a serious condition, recovery is possible with proper treatment. And while it may take courage on your part to talk with your doctor and possibly a counselor about your depression, the Mayo Clinic reminds mothers that, "Remember, the best way to take care of your baby is to take care of yourself."
Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.
Source: Mayo Clinic
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