Do You Have Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that responds best to prompt treatment It is a very real condition that is not caused by weakness or some personal flaw. According to the Mayo Clinic, while it is not uncommon for new mothers to experience some changes in mood or to sometimes cry for no obvious reason, this type of depression is short-lived and seldom severe. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, can last for many months after childbirth and may require treatment to alleviate the symptoms.
Physical changes can bring on postpartum depression. Drops in hormone levels are thought to be a major physical factor. Other changes to metabolism, blood pressure, or the immune system can cause fatigue and aggravate mood swings. The combined effect may lead to full-blown depression.
Emotional changes may also contribute to depression. New mothers are often deprived of sleep, experiencing anxiety over motherhood, or plagued by feelings that she is less attractive than she was prior to childbirth. There may also be financial stresses, uncooperative partners or older children, and a general feeling that her life is no longer her own to control.
Signs and Symptoms
Postpartum depression signs are more pronounced than mere "baby blues" and persist far longer. The symptoms can be severe enough to interfere with the care of the baby or routine chores. Some of the most common signs of postpartum depression include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Changes in appetite, normally a loss of appetite
- Feelings of anger or intense irritability
- Pronounced mood swings
- Avoiding contact with friends and family
- Reduced or absent sex drive
- Feeling guilty or inadequate
- Overall unhappiness with all aspects of life
In more severe cases, the new mother may be unable to bond with her baby. She may also have thoughts of harming herself or her new baby. Without proper treatment, it may take a year or even longer for symptoms to fade.
There is a second type of postpartum depression referred to as postpartum psychosis. This is much rarer, with symptoms typically manifesting within days of childbirth. Postpartum psychosis sufferers display symptoms that include paranoia, hallucinations, confusion or disorientation, and delusional beliefs. Actual attempts to harm herself or her child may occur.
When to Seek Help
Someone who is suffering from postpartum depression should seek help from her physician first. Signs that it is important to schedule a doctor's appointment include:
- Symptoms continue longer than two weeks
- Symptoms are worsening
- The condition makes it difficult to take proper care of the baby
- Everyday chores such as personal grooming are neglected
- The mother experiences any thoughts of causing harm to herself or her child
Isolating yourself from others can make the depression seem worse. The new mother may begin to feel that she is the only one who has ever had such feelings. This can lead to damaged self-esteem, which can worsen the depression.
It is important for those suffering from postpartum depression to understand that there are many others who share her condition. According to the University of Michigan's Depression Center, twelve to fifteen percent of all new mothers develop true postpartum depression, while as many as eighty percent suffer from "baby blues."
Support can be found from a variety of sources. There are groups that meet periodically to discuss their feelings and struggles. Some women prefer to talk with a therapist, either privately or in a group setting.
New mothers also need the support of their partners and family yet may be incapable of asking for help. They are often surprised to learn that family members are willing or even anxious to help care for the baby. This can give the mother time for herself so that she can exercise, nap, or just relax with a book or a movie.