Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?
Q. I should be happy that my baby’s here, so why am I weepy and overwhelmed?
Your wonderful baby may be everything you dreamed of, and yet the challenges of new parenthood can be difficult to handle. The days following your baby’s birth are intense, and emotions tend to seasaw as your hormones surge and you grapple with adjusting to your new role while feeling exhausted from the birth.
A touch of the blues
The “baby blues” are experienced by women shortly after giving birth (usually around day four). The blues tend to last a day or so. During this time women feel weepy, irrational, and generally a little overwhelmed by everything. There are various reasons for the baby blues. After birth, your body undergoes dramatic changes as it returns to its prepregnant condition. The hormones progesterone and estrogen that helped sustain your pregnancy plummet and breast-feeding hormones rapidly rise. While these hormonal swings alone can play havoc, you are also recovering from the after effects of the birth, including exhaustion, stitches, and perhaps major surgery. If you had a difficult birth experience, you may be struggling to process this. In addition, your breasts feel tender as they fill with milk, and your sleep is disrupted. Not least, you are adapting to your new role as a parent.
If, like 1 in 10 women, you still feel low and weepy beyond the baby blues, or find that negative feelings develop around one to two months after the birth, you may have postpartum depression (PPD) and should
seek medical help.
Short-term Baby Blues
There’s no need to seek treatment for the baby blues since they will pass naturally as your hormones settle down, but getting adequate rest, feeling supported, and giving yourself time can make them more bearable. All these things will help with postpartum depression, too, although you will also need medical treatment.
Getting adequate rest: we all struggle to cope when we are overly tired and when you have a new baby to take care of this can be exacerbated. After the exertion of the birth and delivery, you need quiet, restful time, which can be hard for new mothers to come by. Being inundated with visitors, coping with a noisy hospital ward, and dealing with a crying newborn and disrupted sleep are not conducive to good rest. Don’t feel that you should “do it all”— putting your feet up while your baby sleeps isn’t lazy, but crucial because it allows your body to recover from the birth and builds your energy back up.
Love and understanding: partners and loved ones play a crucial role, both practically and emotionally. They need to encourage the mother to rest as much as possible while they hold the fort; be patient; allow the mother to cry and listen to her concerns; make sure she is well-nourished; and reassure her that her feelings are natural and that she will feel better soon. In turn, be honest with those around you about what you need.
Time to adjust: having a baby may be the most life-changing event of your life, and yet it’s a role that is hard to prepare for in advance. This is a period of adjustment. You need to shift your priorities and take life at a slower pace for the moment. Give yourself time and be good to yourself.
Approximately 70 percent of new mothers experience a form of mild depression, called the “baby blues” about four days after birth.
Postpartum Depression (PPD)
Be aware of the risk factors and warning signs of PPD and don’t hesitate to seek support. Speak to someone as soon as you notice any of the warning signs.
The risk factors listed below make it more likely you will suffer with PPD. If any of them apply to you, take steps to reduce your chances of developing the condition; it’s easier to take preventative action than to motivate yourself to find help once you are depressed.
• You have been depressed before or during your pregnancy.
• You had a traumatic delivery.
• You had a recent stressful event, such as
• You generally have little support.
• You find it hard to sleep, have fitful sleep, or wake too early feeling anxious.
• You feel low-level anxiety, or perhaps feel very anxious and suffer from panic attacks.
• You feel irritable and lack concentration.
• You struggle to feel enjoyment or pleasure in life, and lack humor.
• You feel guilty and generally miserable.
• Your appetite is poor, or you overeat.
• You feel lethargic, tired, and unmotivated, and you aren’t managing to take care of yourself properly.
• You feel isolated.
• You have little interest in your baby.
Talk to your partner, or other loved ones, and consult your doctor if you experience any of the warning signs more than a week after the birth. Don’t ignore these feelings since they are easily treatable—if left they can affect your relationship with your baby, partner, and others.
If you have suffered from depression before, the symptoms will feel familiar, although with PPD there is the added factor of how your illness impacts your baby and your relationship with him. Getting help may
make all the difference in your experience of motherhood.
There is help available to treat PPD, so make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Many women recover from PPD without treatment, but up to a quarter of women still have PPD after a year. In this time, their relationship with their baby will have suffered, which might affect the baby’s social development.
Your doctor may refer you for talking therapy, prescribe antidepressant medication, or do both. Antidepressants may help to lift your mood to enable you to explore the root causes of your depression. There are antidepressants that are compatible with breast-feeding. Antidepressants take around two weeks to start working and need to be taken for six months to deal with the depression effectively.
Your thyroid function may be tested, since levels of the hormone thyroid can drop after pregnancy, which can cause some of the symptoms of depression.
Excerpted from The Pregnancy Encyclopedia Canadian Edition – Copyright 2016 Dorling Kindersley Ltd.