Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder that may occur after having a baby. Babies require a lot of care, so it’s normal for mothers to be worried, self-doubtful or tired from providing that care. Many women get in an emotional state of unhappiness, tearfulness, worry, and fatigue – called “baby blues.” These feelings usually begin a few days after delivery and resolve on their own within a few days. However, feelings of postpartum depression are more intense and last longer than those of “baby blues.” Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, despair, and exhaustion that make it difficult for them to complete simple daily activities. Because of the severity of the symptoms, postpartum depression usually requires treatment.
Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between clinical depression and normal stress and fatigue of new parenthood. But if your feelings of despair last more than two consecutive weeks and are so intense that they interfere with your ability to care for yourself or your family – you could have PPD.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
Some of the most common symptoms of PPD are the following:
- Extreme feelings of sadness, despair or hopelessness
- Crying more often than usual
- Feeling constant anxiety and worrying excessively about your baby
- Having trouble falling asleep
- Eating too little or too much
- Experiencing anger or rage
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling intensely self-conscious about your postpartum body
- Losing interest in your usual activities
- Withdrawing from or avoiding your loved ones
- Feeling guilty about not being a good mother or doubting your ability to care for the baby
- Having trouble bonding and feeling disconnected from your baby
- Feeling exhaustion
- Suffering from physical aches, such as frequent headaches, stomach problems, and muscle pain
- Having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
What causes PPD?
Postpartum depression results from a combination of physical and emotional factors. It is associated with the changes in the levels of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) that occur after childbirth. According to scientists, these sudden hormonal changes after delivering a baby lead to chemical changes in the brain which can trigger mood swings and depression. Also, many mothers are unable to get enough rest to recover from giving birth fully. The exhaustion caused by constant sleep deprivation, in addition to the emotional adjustment of becoming a parent, can contribute to the development of postpartum depression.
Risk Factors for PPD
Postpartum depression can affect any woman regardless of age, ethnicity, or economic status. However, some women have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression because they have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy
- Previous experience with depression or bipolar disorder
- Family history of depression or other mental illnesses
- A stressful life event during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Having multiple babies (like twins or triplets)
- Medical complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including premature delivery or having a baby with a birth defect or disability
- Nursing problems
- A lack of emotional support from your partner, family, or friends
- Domestic abuse
- Being a single mother
- Low socioeconomic status or unemployment
The good news is that postpartum depression can be treated. If you feel depressed, the first step to seeking treatment is to talk to your doctor. Two effective treatments for postpartum depression are:
- Counseling. This involves talking one-on-one with a mental health professional to help mothers understand their situation and change their negative thoughts and behaviors.
- Medication. Antidepressant medications balance the brain chemicals that are involved in mood regulation. Many antidepressants may take some days to be most effective. While these medications are considered safe to take while breastfeeding, every woman should talk to her doctor about the risks and benefits to both herself and her baby.
These treatment methods can be used alone or together.
Without treatment, postpartum depression can last for months or years and the condition can get worse. In addition to affecting the mother’s health, it can interfere with her ability to bond with and care for her baby. Treatment provides the support a mother needs and feeling better will enable her to take better care of her baby.
Coping with postpartum depression
Besides getting professional help, there are some things you can do to make yourself feel better when dealing with PPD:
- Eat healthy foods. What you eat affects your mood, as well as the quality of your breast milk, so do your best to establish healthy eating habits.
- Get enough rest. Poor sleep makes depression worse. Ask your partner or another family member to watch your baby for an hour or so each day so that you can take a break once in a while.
- Don't demand too much of yourself. Be realistic about how much you can actually take on. Decrease work obligations leaving aside non-essential tasks. Skip the housework and make yourself and your baby the priority.
- Don't keep your feelings to yourself. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Your friends and family can also provide a much-needed emotional support.
- Pamper yourself. Take a shower or have a relaxing bath, go on a shopping trip or get a massage. Taking care of your physical self will certainly help you feel better.
- Ease back into exercise. It’s hard to move when you’re feeling blue, but the endorphin boost you get from a workout has been shown to ease depression. Studies show that regular exercise can regulate mood. So, even if it’s just going for a walk, the sooner you get back up and moving, the better.
- Spend some time outdoors. The fresh air and the sunshine will lift your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day.