Battling baby blues

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SLICE-OF-LIFEPregnancy is such a blissful and exciting time for expecting mothers. There is a lot of anticipation and preparation for your new bundle of joy.  For women who’ve experienced childbirth before, they are aware of what to expect after they deliver. Most women experience a low mood right after delivery for a few days and that is perfectly natural. However, for new mums who have never heard of postpartum depression also known as the ‘baby blues’, it becomes very hard for them to understand why they don’t feel as excited anymore when the baby is born.  Feelings of anxiety, irritation, tearfulness and restlessness are common feelings in the week or two after delivering a baby due to fluctuations in hormonal levels. Many mums experience these symptoms for a couple of weeks and those symptoms often fade away without the need for treatment. However when these symptoms persist for more than two weeks or when the signs of depression start one or more months after childbirth, this common condition requires immediate medical attention.

Postpartum depression is moderate to severe depression a woman experiences after giving birth. It may occur soon after delivery or up to a year later although it often occurs within the first three months after delivery. According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 9-16 per cent of new mums will experience PPD.  And among women who have experienced PPD after previous childbirths, their chances of experiencing it again after childbirth increases to 41 per cent.

Although postpartum depression is more common than we think, most mums suffer in silence due to feelings of guilt about not feeling as excited when the baby is born and due to the fear of being judged as an unfit mother. The main purpose of this article is to create awareness around postpartum depression and to highlight that this condition is very common among new mums; that it does not represent your lack of parenting skills; and rather, it is a common medical issue that is 100 per cent treatable.

Causes of postpartum depression
Although the exact causes of postpartum depression are unknown, hormonal fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone during and after pregnancy play a huge part in affecting a woman’s mood. Some non-hormonal factors that may also affect a woman’s mood during this period include changes in a woman’s body from pregnancy and delivery; changes in work and social relationships; having less time and freedom for yourself; lack of sleep and worries about your ability to be a good mother.

Symptoms

They are the same symptoms as those of clinical depression. Along with a sad or depressed mood, you may have some of the following symptoms that persist for two weeks or more:

# Agitation or irritability

# Changes in appetite

# Feelings of worthlessness or guilt

# Feeling withdrawn or disconnected from others

# Lack of pleasure or interest in activities you used to enjoy

# Lack of concentration

# Loss of energy or fatigue

# Problems doing tasks at home or work

# Significant anxiety

# Thoughts of death or suicide

# Trouble sleeping

# As it relates to mothers with postpartum depression, a mother may also:

# Be unable to care for herself or her baby

# Be afraid to be alone with her baby

# Worry intensely about the baby or have little interest in the baby

# Have negative feelings toward the baby or even think about harming the baby in rare cases

Diagnosing postpartum depression
There is no single test to diagnose it however a diagnosis is easily made based on the symptoms you describe to your doctor, nurse, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Treatment

Treatment often includes talk therapy, medication or both depending on the severity of your symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy that often helps mothers suffering from postpartum depression because it addresses the distorted, negative thought patterns and works on alternating them with more realistic positive thought patterns, ultimately positively changing your behavior and feelings. Support groups are also very helpful because new mothers experiencing the same or similar symptoms get together and can support each other. Surrounding yourself with a social support system is extremely important which is a way in many eastern cultures; a woman who gives birth is always surrounded by family and friends during the first forty days after her delivery.

*Remember that it is very important to treat your symptoms because if left untreated, postpartum depression can last for months and even for years in some cases.

Source: Postpartum Depression (fact sheet). American Psychological Association (2007). Washington, DC

Sara Hassan is psychologist at Al Harub Medical Centre. E-mail: sara@alharubmedical.com