Postpartum Depression

By:    Published: November 3, 2011

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It's quite common for new mothers to feel a whole host of emotions after giving birth to a new bundle of joy. But sometimes those emotions are a sign of a bigger problem. Postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It occurs in a growing percent of births to some degree. It is often just a side effect of the process of giving birth and is completely treatable.

What is It?

Postpartum depression is often used as a "catch all" name for several different concerns that are common after a woman has a baby. There are actually three different conditions that vary in symptoms and severity.

  • Baby blues are very common and only last a few days to a couple of weeks. Symptoms are usually mild and will pass quickly.
  • Postpartum depression is more intense and lasts longer than the baby blues. Symptoms usually interfere with the ability to perform normal daily tasks. Often this type of depression will require medication.
  • Postpartum psychosis is a very rare and very severe form of postpartum depression. It often develops very quickly and on occasion it requires hospitalization to prevent the mother from harming herself or her new baby.

Causes

There are a few different, possible causes of postpartum depression, and it is entirely possible for more than one thing to be causing the depression at the same time.

  • Physical changes associated with pregnancy can cause postpartum depression. Hormones rapidly drop after birth and this can cause shifts in mood. In addition, thyroid hormones can also become unbalanced after childbirth, causing the feelings of tiredness and depression. Other physical changes such as blood loss, changes in metabolism and sleep deprivation can all add to the feelings of depression.
  • Emotional changes are inevitable after a child is born. Apprehension about caring for a new born, being sleep deprived, worrying about getting back into pre-pregnancy shape, and sometimes even a sense of loss can all play a role in postpartum depression.
  • Lifestyle can also play into postpartum depression. If a mother is particularly young, has other small children, a baby that has difficulties, has financial problems or relationship problems, that mother is more likely to have some form of postpartum depression.

Women with a family history of depression are more likely to develop depression overall. Additionally, a woman who has encountered significant problems of any kind during the pregnancy, such as complications, relationship problems, or job loss is more likely to develop postpartum depression.

Symptoms

The symptoms of postpartum depression can vary based on the severity of the depression.

  • Baby blues: The symptoms of baby blues include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, trouble sleep or concentrating and crying spells. These symptoms only last a few days to a couple of weeks.
  • Postpartum depression: The symptoms of postpartum depression include all of the above symptoms but more severe. In addition other symptoms include lack of appetite, insomnia, fatigue, loss of interest in sex, feelings of guilt, difficulty bonding with the baby, withdrawal from family. These symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily life and the care of the new baby. These symptoms can continue for more than a year if left untreated.
  • Postpartum psychosis: The symptoms include all of the symptoms listed above as well as confusion or disorientation, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions and attempts by the mother to harm herself or her baby. Though very rare, occurring in only about one to two births out of every 1000. That means that this severe condition occurs in far less than one percent of all births. Symptoms will typically show up very suddenly and within a short period of time after birth.

There are few complications associated with the baby blues, with symptoms typically resolving themselves. Complications of postpartum depression include interference with mother-child bonding, family relationship problems and developmental problems for the baby. Babies that don't bond with their mothers properly often experience language delays as well as behavioral problems such as sleeping and eating problems and hyperactivity.

Postpartum psychosis poses a real risk for infanticide or suicide so fast treatment is essential. Even if these things don't happen, there are still serious bonding issues that occur.

Treatment

  • Treatment for these postpartum conditions is often very simple. In fact, the baby blues are often not treated at all and symptoms will disappear on their own.
  • Postpartum depression is often treated by a combination of psychotherapy and medications. These medications can include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. There may also be some natural treatment options for postpartum depression such as St. John's Wort or SAM-e.
  • Postpartum psychosis is a bit more complicated. Treatment can involve hospitalization and medications. Postpartum psychosis is considered a bipolar episode and because of this it could be treated in much the same way. Possible medications include lithium, anti-depressant medications, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers or other medications based on individual need.

Warning Signs

If a mother notices that she is having a hard time coping with her new role, she should seek help. If she is unable to care for her baby or herself properly or has any thoughts of harming herself, someone else or her new baby, this is considered an emergency. Often however, the mother herself may not be capable of seeking help on her own so her partner or a close family member should get her help immediately.

Postpartum depression is not the end of the world, though it may feel like it at the time. With proper treatment, mom can get back to feeling like her old self and enjoying her new bundle of joy.

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