Understanding Postpartum Depression
Oh, the joy of childbirth! The excitement of seeing your baby for the first time and getting the chance to hold your child next to you and feeling that motherly connection everyone is always talking about. Having your loved ones all around you, congratulating you, bringing out gifts, and showering you with compliments on how you’re glowing, and how you gave life to the cutest little baby. Everyone around us is always talking about the wonder and miracle of birth, and that it more often than not overshadows the burden of diaper changes, sleep disturbances, and basically having life as you know it turns upside down. In many realities, the experience is not so benevolent.
Experiencing baby blues is more common than you think.
It’s not uncommon for new mothers to experience stress, anxiety, fatigue, and frustration during the first few of weeks after having given birth, as much as 80% of new mothers will have experienced baby blues. Baby blues don’t often last longer than a few weeks after childbirth, where new moms are experiencing sleep difficulties, rapidly shifting moods, and are generally exhausted. The baby blues are thought to be the result of the changing hormone levels right after childbirth, as well as the sudden changes in one’s routine that comes with taking care of a baby. This, however, is not the same as experiencing postpartum depression, which can last much longer and become much more difficult to live with.
How is postpartum depression different than the baby blues?
If you’re experiencing baby blues, you will likely experience irritability, anxiety, quick mood swings, a decrease in appetite, and an inability to perform daily self-care activities. Going through baby blues can be tremendously difficult, especially because of the expectation that you, as a new mom, are to be overjoyed.
When it comes to postpartum depression, on the other hand, the feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and worthlessness seem to be highly intensified and the thoughts of “not being a good mom” may be racing in your head. You could be also having difficulties forming a connection with your child, which can be discouraging. The stressors of childcare alongside these thoughts and feelings may also have an effect on your appetite, sleep, and ability to take care of yourself. Anxiety and panic attacks are also common symptoms that appear with postpartum depression.
What exactly is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mental illness that is considered a form of major depressive disorder, that involve symptoms much more severe than the more common experience of baby blues. The symptoms involve physical, emotional, and behavioural changes that occur right after giving birth. These symptoms can affect many areas of your life, including childcare.
While the exact causes are unclear, factors such as hormonal changes and changes in one’s lifestyle after childbirth can affect the likelihood of experiencing PDD. Other factors affecting the risk involve previous history of depression, family history of mood disorders, highly stressful events occurring at the time of pregnancy or childbirth, the age of the mother, the number of children, and a lack of social support. It’s true that PPD is less common than baby blues, however, research has shown that around 1 in every 10 women will develop PPD after delivering their baby.
The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Depressed mood or mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulties in forming a bond with your child
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- A disruption in one’s appetite; eating too little or much more than usual
- Sleep disturbances; insomnia or sleeping too much
- Experiencing fatigue or a loss of energy
- Not enjoying the activities that you used to enjoy
- Increased irritability or anger
- Decreased motivation
- Memory difficulties
- Hopelessness, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Fears involving not being a good parent to your child
- Unable to bond with your child
- Decreased abilities to concentrate or make decisions
- Panic attacks
- Thoughts of self-harm
- Thoughts of harming your child
- Suicide thoughts, plans, or behaviours
How to prevent postpartum depression?
If you know that you may pose a risk of developing PPD, based on the factors that may increase its likelihood, be sure to let your doctors know as soon as you can, even if you mentioned it before you plan on getting pregnant.
If during any time of the pregnancy you find yourself experiencing any PPD symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctors in order to discuss the best treatment methods as soon as possible.
It is also crucial to remain connected to your support system, from your partner, family, and friends, as well as trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle including getting a sufficient amount of sleep, eating a healthy diet, and getting some exercise during the day. It’s understandable that doing any of these things can feel impossible when experiencing PPD, but you don’t need to experience this alone.
Coping after childbirth
Childbirth is not an easy, and surely comes with its fair share of challenges, which is why baby blues, and postpartum can be a common experience among new mothers. While going through the tips for coping with PPD, it’s important to remember that having such experiences does not ever equate to being a “bad mom” and that regardless of how you might be feeling, you are doing your best, it is appreciated, and you are enough.
Here are three tips to help you cope with what you may be experiencing:
- Ask for (and accept) help.
Don’t shy away from asking for help, you need every bit of support during this time and needing this support is valid. If you’re in a partnership, building a bond with your partner is just as important as connecting with your child, and it’s important to remember that both partners are each other’s backbone and support system, so fostering that relationship and making time for each other is essential. Staying connected to friends and family is also an important source of support. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child, you’re not meant to do it alone.
Aside from our loved ones, it can be beneficial to join support groups for new mothers, whether it consists of weekly meetings or groups on Facebook for example. It’s always helpful to surround yourself with people who are on a similar journey, to know that there are other people around you who can relate to your thoughts and feelings, and to learn from each other methods of coping.
- Set your expectations.
It's definitely challenging when you are expected to be “at your happiest” when you’re welcoming a new-born into the world. People are always talking about the joys of forming that special connection with the most important human in your life, but having such high expectations can really take a toll on you when you’re met with the challenges of this stage in life. When you’re taking care of your child, it’s important to recognise and remember that, just like anything else in life, there will be good days and there will be bad days as well. And that, also like everything in life, things take time. You won’t be a superhero right away, or all the time. It’s important to be gentle with yourself.
It’s helpful to educate yourself more on what to expect during childbirth, in raising your child, and everything in between. There are numerous workshops and educational websites for you to check out that can support mothers during these times.
Some of the useful websites include:
Online support group:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle to the best of your ability.
It can be exhausting just to think about exercising after you have just given birth and started to take care of your child, but even the simplest movements can go a long way. You can start by consulting with your doctors about the possible method of exercise, in ways that would be both beneficial and within the scope of your restrictions of the level of activities. Other lifestyle measures include maintaining a healthy diet, free from alcohol and caffeine, getting enough sleep, as well as making time for yourself (which would require you to utilize tip #1 😊)
So, when is it time to see a professional?
While many mothers may feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit to the struggles that come with PPD, it’s important to contact your doctors as soon as you experience any of its symptoms, and especially if it is starting to affect your everyday functioning and your ability to attend to your daily responsibilities.
There are some signs regarding PPD symptoms to look out for and to seek help if they are noticed, these include:
- Symptoms persist even after two weeks
- Symptoms are becoming more severe
- Symptoms are interfering with your ability to perform daily childcare activities
- Symptoms are interfering with your everyday functioning
- You are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or your child
How can therapy help with postpartum depression?
“Treatment can help you feel like yourself again.”
Through treatments using psychotherapy, medications, and/or group counselling and support groups, PPD symptoms can show significant improvement.
Psychotherapy involves seeking a mental health professional who would hear out every concern you have as well as the thoughts and feelings that you are struggling with. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy can help you better navigate and cope with your symptoms in order to live a more fulfilled life alongside your new-born. Group therapy, alongside individual psychotherapy, is also useful to get more insight into PPD and how to handle your daily stresses.
Finally, it’s important to have an honest and thorough conversation regarding the benefits and risks of taking medication, such as antidepressants, with your doctors in order to come up with the best solution for you.
“Any woman can become depressed during pregnancy or after having a baby. It doesn’t mean you are a bad mom. You and your baby don’t have to suffer and there is help.”