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What about Postpartum Depression?

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Regardless of how much you have looked forward to the birth of your baby or how happy you are about it, having a baby is extremely stressful. A range of emotional reactions are expected and normal, including sadness, “baby blues,” or some depression. However, if you find yourself with feelings of depression that don’t go away within a few weeks, you could have a condition called postpartum depression. This is a serious condition that requires that you see your doctor as soon as possible to discuss treatment and support options so that you are healthy and able to take optimal care of your new baby as well as yourself.

The baby blues are common and mild, and may include symptoms such as sadness, moodiness, irritability, and trouble sleeping. These symptoms appear within a few days of giving birth and improve within a couple of weeks. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is more serious and the symptoms are more severe and last longer.

Symptoms such as a lack of interest in your baby, worrying that you might hurt your baby, lack of interest in personal hygiene, lack of motivation or energy, feeling worthless or guilty, or thoughts of death or suicide are examples of the types of symptoms that should alert you to the fact that you may be dealing with something beyond normal baby blues.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

It is not well understood why postpartum depression affects some new mothers and not others. However, there are a number of causes and risk factors that may contribute. Changes in hormone levels after childbirth, physical pain, insecurity about your changed body, exhaustion, and the stress of taking care of a new baby can all play a role in the development of postpartum depression.

In addition, it is known that some women are more likely to get postpartum depression, such as those who have a history of depression, a history of severe PMS symptoms, medical complications with the pregnancy or delivery, and a lack of support from friends and family. In fact, this study shows the important role that peer support plays in preventing and lessening postpartum depression.

How to Treat Postpartum Depression

To start feeling better, it is very important to take care of yourself. Making sure you get enough sleep, which may sound impossible when you have a new baby, but being exhausted will worsen your depression. I was told from a wise mother of several children, “When your baby sleeps, you sleep.”  No vacuuming, washing clothes or paying bills. Enlist help if at all possible so that you can get enough rest. And when awake, do not spend every waking minute caring for your new baby, your other kids, or your house – take breaks from mommy duty to pamper yourself.  That may be easier said than done when you have a maternal sense of danger if your baby is not within your sight every minute.  Even taking a shower may be difficult for some new mothers.  Single mothers have the most difficult time of balancing their lifestyle with the arrival of a newborn.  Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, ask that friend if she (or he) can come over to spell you from the rigors of motherhood for a few hours.  And, when she’s there, take a long, hot bath and do whatever simple things you enjoy to recharge and relax.   It DOES “take a village” to raise a good kid without exhausting yourself trying to do it alone.

You can also get closer to feeling like yourself by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of mood-enhancing sunshine, and easing back into a regular exercise routine. A 30-minute walk each day is a good way to start, and your baby will probably love it, too.

Finally, make sure and take advantage of the help and support others offer – or be proactive about asking for it. Stay in touch with your friends; make plans with them and do not let yourself become isolated. Talking about your feelings can help, too.

As stated in my blog back in 2010, “Everyone feels sad some of the time. It’s normal to have a bad day. But if your bad day stretches into weeks, for your own sake and the sake of your baby, you need to get help. If you don’t have a therapist, ask your ob-gyn for a referral if you experience feelings of hopelessness, sadness or despair. Don’t suffer needlessly. Help is available.”

Talk therapy, hormone therapy, and medications such as antidepressants can all be highly effective in relieving postpartum depression.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.