You have gone through your pregnancy and have given birth to your child, who is hopefully healthy and perfect. You’ve weathered through the first couple of weeks and survived the anxiety, irritation, and tearfulness that are so common during that time. However, you still feel down, or perhaps you don’t feel as loving towards your new baby as you thought you would. Perhaps you don’t even want to be alone with your newborn. It can feel so overwhelming, and you are probably frustrated with yourself for not handling the transition to parenthood better. Why can’t you just be happy with your baby who you looked forward to? The answer might be postpartum depression.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is moderate to severe depression that manifests in women after childbirth. Although it most often occurs in the three months immediately following delivery, the depression can pop up anytime in the first year. It is important to realize that postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw, nor does it mean that you don’t love your new baby. It’s simply a medical issue that sometimes arises after childbirth.
Causes And Risk Factors
While some blue days are to be expected after delivery, due to changing hormones, postpartum depression is a serious matter. There are some factors that make women more likely to experience postpartum depression, and they are as follows:
- Age under twenty years
- Alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, or smoking
- The pregnancy was unplanned or you weren’t sure of your feelings about it
- Pre-existing mood disorders, such as anxiety disorder, depression or bipolar disorder
- During the pregnancy, you experienced a traumatic or stressful event or time period
- Financial difficulties
- Lack of support from family or friends
- Strained relationship (or lack of one) with significant other
- Close relative with depression
Symptoms of Postpartum
Postpartum depression has symptoms that are typical of other forms of depression. A persistent sad or unhappy mood is the most common symptom, but there are many more.
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns (particularly trouble sleeping)
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Feeling alone and disconnected
- Lack of pleasure and interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering details
- Lack of energy, leading to not being able to accomplish tasks at home or work
- Significant anxiety
- Thoughts of suicide
- Negative feelings towards your child
- Lack of interest in your baby or intense worry
- Unable to care for yourself or your child
- Fear of being alone with your child
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your child
Thoughts of harming yourself or your child are certainly very scary, but statistically they are very rarely acted upon. However, it is important that you tell your medical doctor right away if at any time you have those feelings. If left undiagnosed and untreated, postpartum depression can last for months or years, and it might eventually progress to the stage of hurting yourself or your child. If you feel like you might hurt your child, please treat that as an emergency and seek immediate medical attention and help.
Diagnosis and Tests
If after reading the list of symptoms, you feel that you might have postpartum depression, please contact a health professional, preferably your personal doctor. While there is no single test that diagnoses postpartum depression, your doctor may have questionnaires for you to fill out. One such form is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Your doctor may also order blood work to screen for any medical conditions that can cause depression-like symptoms, such as hypothyroidism.
Just as there is no single test to determine if you have postpartum depression, there is not just one course of action. You and your doctor will decide your best treatment path, which can include one or more of several actions. First, there is medication. Fortunately for breast-feeding mothers, there are several groups of depression medications that are safe to take while nursing, like Paroxetine and Sertraline. Therapy is another likely aspect to successful treatment. Your doctor will likely refer to you a mental health professional, such as a therapist, and you may need to be under supervision for six months of more. Two types of therapy have traditionally been effective for people suffering from postpartum depression, cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.
Other tips for successfully navigating your way through the painful experience of postnatal depression include asking for more support from your partner and family. You might also make time for yourself, away from the baby. Don’t try to make huge life changes or be too perfect, this will only exacerbate the feelings you have. Lastly, please don’t hide your struggle. Get it out in the open, whether you discuss it with your partner, friends or family, or you join a support group.
If you’ve had the baby blues for longer than two weeks and your life is being affected by your symptoms, please contact your doctor. Help is out there, and making that first step, while difficult, sets the ball rolling for positive change and growth.