Postpartum Depression: You Are Not Alone
Having a baby is often depicted as a joyous time of celebration and happiness. While it is exciting, it can also be a very overwhelming time, especially for new moms.
All of a sudden this little bundle’s life is in your hands. It doesn’t come with an instruction manual or a how-to book. Your sleep is constantly interrupted. You feel pulled in different directions. You are unsure if you are doing things right.
Being a mother is a 24/7 job, with rare and few breaks. The reality slowly sinks in.
It’s scary. With lack of sleep and downtime, your mental health can take a major hit. It can lead to feelings of sadness, severe mood swings, crying, irritation, lack of concentration, a reduced appetite, sleeping problems, and recurrent thoughts of suicide.
First and foremost, know that you are not alone.
10-15% of new mothers experience some form of postpartum depression.
Postpartum Depression, or PPD, is a major depressive disorder that occurs following childbirth. It can last up to 6 months, possibly longer if left untreated. That said, tt is a common condition, and it is treatable.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
Sometimes referred to as postpartum baby blues, PPD has no exact cause. However, doctors and researchers have concluded that physical changes and emotional aspects play a huge role.
After pregnancy, there is a huge change in your hormone levels. Estrogen and progesterone suddenly drop in response to childbirth. The thyroid hormone slows production of certain hormones that contribute to the body’s regulatory system. This sudden change can leave your body feeling fatigued and you feeling depressed.
Emotional and mental health issues can arise due to a lack of sleep and self-esteem issues post-birth. New mothers may face difficulty with their sense of identity as they adjust to motherhood. Mothers may feel constantly worried and ill-equipped to handle their newborns. Overwhelming depressive feelings may become all-consuming, and consequently, PPD may develop.
Major signs and symptoms of PPD include:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Doctors often diagnose PPD if these feelings have lasted 2 or more weeks at a time.
- Constant worry about competency as a mother. You don’t feel good enough. You feel sadness and guilt about it, and worry that you are not a good mom.
- Gradual disinterest in doing the things you normally enjoy.
- Inability to concentrate and make decisions. This is often closely linked with a lack of sufficient sleep.
- Major and possibly devastating events that have happened outside of giving birth, such as a death in the family, can create added stress and may contribute to the development of PPD.
- Thoughts of suicide and/or harming yourself or the baby. It is important to seek help for your own health and wellbeing, as well as for your newborn’s.
Who is at Risk?
While PPD can attack anyone, there are groups of people that are more at risk of experiencing mental health issues after childbirth. You may be predisposed to PPD if:
- You have a personal history of depression or bipolar disorders
- You have a family history of depression or bipolar disorders
- You have had a major stressful life event occur in the past year or few months
- You have difficulty bonding with or breastfeeding your baby
- Your baby was born with special needs or health issues
- You lack a solid support system, such as close friends and family
- You have relationship or financial issues
How Can You Help a Friend or Family Member with PPD?
If you know someone struggling with PPD, there are many ways you can offer support.
- Help with cooking, groceries, or laundry. For a new mom, it is especially difficult to juggle it all. Take a weight off their shoulders. Bring over a casserole dish or offer to run some errands.
- Help her carve out some me-time. Offer to look after the kids while she takes care of herself or attends doctors appointments. Set up a playdate with your kids and reassure her that she is doing you a favour by keeping your little ones out of trouble.
- Stay in touch! Many of those dealing with PPD withdraw from friends and the outside world. If she doesn’t text back, give her a call. Drop in and see how she is doing with the new baby. Keep trying on your end without being too pushy.
- Help her and support her in getting professional help. There is no shame in needing to seek out a healthcare professional. Offer to drive her or watch her kids while she gets the help she needs and deserves.
- Point out where she is doing well and improving. Find that silver-lining, since she likely does not see it. Avoid saying she should be happy because this is everything she ever wanted. It only adds guilt, shame, and more self-critique.
- Be there for her. Let her know you care and you are there to help. Reassure her that it is okay. Be patient and listen.
- Leave the suggestions and advice to the pros. Everyone is different and what worked for you may not for others.
- If she is reluctant to get help and poses a risk to herself or the baby, contact a crisis line or emergency services.
Further, be aware of how PPD may be affecting the entire family. Depression can cause emotional strain for partners and other children. There is a high risk that partners may experience reactionary depression and that the other children may start having behavioural issues.
PPD Is Treatable
Treatment methods may include medications, support groups, therapy, and exercise. Talk to your doctor about the right course of treatment for you.
Make sure to book with your doctor a few weeks following childbirth to check in for PPD, even if you don’t have a history of mental health problems. It never hurts to have a conversation. Your doctor can recommend a suitable course of treatment for your unique situation. The sooner treatment is started, the sooner you can get back to feeling better and enjoying your new life.
If you are struggling with PPD, accept help. Understand that it’s okay that you can’t do it all because nobody can. Nobody expects you to balance everything. Talk to your friends and family. And remember, you are not alone.