Having a baby can be very challenging for every woman, both physically and emotionally. The birth of a baby can trigger a mix of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. It is natural for many new mothers to have mood swings after delivery, feelings of joy one minute, and moments of sadness the next. But it can also result in something one might not expect like the onset of depression. These feelings are sometimes known as the “baby blues” — depression that normally fades away within 10 days of delivery. However, some women may experience a deep and ongoing depression which lasts much longer. This is called postpartum depression.
The earliest medical records about postpartum depression dates back to as far as the 4th Century BC. However, despite the early awareness about this form of depression, the postpartum sadness has not always been formally recognized as an illness. As a result, it continues to be under-diagnosed. There is no single cause for depression after childbirth. Physical, emotional, and lifestyle factors may all play a role. Unlike the “baby blues”, postpartum depression does not go away quickly. Very rarely, new moms develop something even more serious. They may stop eating, have trouble sleeping or develop insomnia, and become frantic or paranoid.
Postpartum depression affects 10-28% of new mothers. It can begin days, weeks, or months after delivery. Studies show that depressed mothers are less involved with their infant. They are also shows signs of inconsistentcy in terms of how they respond to their infant. They can be loving and attentive one minute, and withdrawn the next. In addition to the signs mentioned, some other symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
Excessive sleeping but still feeling exhausted
Loss of sexual interest
Crying spells without obvious cause
Feelings of guilt
Feelings of despair and/or worthlessness
Difficulty making decisions
Treatment for postpartum depression can be as varied as the symptoms. Some of the more common approaches to therapy or treatment include:
Creating a supportive environment for the mother;
Joining a support groups;
More often, postpartum depression is not recognized or adequately treated because some normal post-pregnancy changes which cause similar symptoms in new mothers. Moreover, some women do not tell anyone about their symptoms because they feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about being depressed about their pregnancy and childbirth when the normal response would be that of elation or happiness.
Early detection and treatment of postpartum depression is critical not only for the mother but for the infant as well. It can also help if the father or another caregiver can assist in meeting the needs of the baby while the mom is depressed or is still recovering from depression. The less exposure the infant has to the mother’s depression, the lower the risk of long-term problems in the child.
Research shows that infants of depressed mothers are at increased risk of behavioral problems, emotional difficulties, and delays in growth and language development. If the mother’s depression is not treated promptly, the baby can be greatly affected. Women with postpartum depression may feel like they are bad or inefficient mothers and might become increasingly reluctant to seek professional help. It is crucial to remember that hope and treatment are available to them. With a combination of proper medication and therapy, a woman can overcome postpartum depression and regain the ability to love and care for her newborn child.