Childbirth is one of the greatest miracles of life. A new-born baby is celebrated and welcomed into this world with smiles, tears of joy, and hopes of a brighter future. For some mothers, the beautiful occasion is mixed with dread. There is a strange feeling of sadness that comes over them. It is a feeling they cannot explain. Science has identified this condition as Postpartum Depression. Dealing with Postpartum Depression is a real thing. If left untreated, it could negatively impact the baby’s behaviour, disposition, and personality.
Doctors have classified Postpartum Depression (PPD) as a mood disorder that generally affects women but in some cases, may also affect men. It is also referred to as Postnatal Depression.
It is normal for women to go through mood swings after giving birth. After all, her body has gone through hormonal changes during pregnancy. There are also the psychological and emotional factors such as feelings of being “undesirable”.
Women slowly develop fears of becoming a “bad mother”. She begins to dread the hardships and difficulties of the new life ahead; of how her life will drastically change.
These fears and anxieties become so pronounced that they manifest as feelings of inadequacy; that they are not good enough to become a mother to their child. She will stop caring for herself, her family, and the baby.
This is why even men; the husbands, are affected by PPD. They feel powerless and in a way, feel responsible for the change of behaviour of their spouse.
According to research, PPD starts out as Postpartum Blues or the “Baby Blues” and affects 15% to 85% of women as early as the first 10 days after giving birth. These feelings usually peak by the fifth day.
For most women, the baby blues go away naturally and they are able to segue into their new roles as loving mothers.
The problem occurs when the baby blues extend past 2 weeks. The longer these fears and anxieties persist, the greater the risk for Postpartum Blues to develop into Postpartum Depression.
Thus, early detection and management of Postpartum Depression are very important. Over the long term, its consequences will not be limited to the mother.
Research has shown that children whose mothers experienced Postpartum Depression developed behavioural problems, cognitive difficulties, and become more prone to anti-social behaviour. This is because PPD has adverse effects on the relationship between the mother and her baby.
If a woman becomes “regretful” of her status as a mother, the feeling may carry over to her interactions with the baby. It may lead to neglect, lack of compassion, an uncaring attitude, and potential acts of hostility that may influence the baby’s own personal and behavioural development.
Children are like sponges. They absorb the conditions of the environment that nurtures their growth and development. If the environment is toxic and negative, then these will manifest in the child’s own interactions with the world around him/her.
PPD will also have an effect on the mother’s ability to breastfeed. Breast milk is very important as it provides all the vitamins, minerals, and substances that strengthen the baby’s immune system.
Women who suffer from PPD are less willing to breastfeed their baby for extended periods. Shorter breastfeeding sessions will have an impact on the baby’s growth and development.
Doctors agree there is no singular cause of Postpartum Depression. Instead, the condition is the result of a combination of factors that are physical, emotional, and mental in origin.
As mentioned earlier, women go through hormonal changes during the different stages of pregnancy. When the woman gives birth, the levels of progesterone and estrogen drastically drop and cause changes in her mental and emotional states.
Becoming a parent also means more sleepless nights. The baby wakes up every few hours because he/she is hungry or has just soiled. Women who are used to getting their nightly 8-hour “beauty sleep” may not take too kindly to this change in lifestyle pattern.
Lack of sleep will manifest physically on the mother. She will look tired haggard. Because her metabolism will slow down, she will become more susceptible to weight gain. Her depression may lead her to consume unhealthy food as her sources of comfort.
Many states mandate that new mothers take a leave from work and stay home with the baby for a few months. This change of status from working professional to stay-at-home mother may be a difficult transition for some women even though it may just be a temporary situation.
The best way to develop Postpartum Depression solutions is to first identify the symptoms. How would you know that the woman is suffering from Postpartum Depression? Here are a few symptoms to look out for:
Dealing with Postpartum Depression is a serious matter. If a woman shows any one of these symptoms, it should not be taken lightly. The common mistake is to just attribute the condition as a “passing stage” she would eventually get over.
Instead of being dismissive, her loved ones should take a proactive approach and immediately help the mother find ways to cope with Postpartum Depression.
There is no cure for Postpartum Depression. As a condition, the best course of action is for the woman to undergo treatments that are specifically designed to address each of the possible cause.
Psychotherapy Sessions. These are short-term treatment sessions that seeks to identify and address the specific interpersonal disruption that may have contributed to PPD.
Many women who suffer from PPD share that they do not receive adequate social support from their loved ones at their time of need. They feel that family and friends are largely dismissive and don’t take her anxieties seriously.
Numerous studies strongly support the effectiveness of psychotherapy sessions for women with PPD.
Medication. PPD remains categorized as a type of depression. Therefore, the medications given to mothers with PPD are often the same as patients who are dealing with other forms of depression. An example would be SSRI or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.
These medicines are used to address PPD that is in the range of moderate to severe. SSRI works by blocking the absorption of serotonin in the brain and balances out mood swings.
Hormone Therapy. For the reason that women go through wild hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and after giving birth, hormone therapy may be needed to balance out hormone levels.
A doctor will usually administer estrogen therapy which has been proven to be one of the more effective PPD treatment protocols. There are risks to estrogen therapy.
These risks include insufficient lactation and a higher probability of acquiring endometrial cancer and thromboembolism. Thus, prior to receiving estrogen therapy, the woman should first undergo screening procedures.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. A study on women who suffer from PPD was conducted by a group of researchers from The University of Kansas Medical Center.
The results of their study showed that women who have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to develop Postpartum Depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that have been proven to improve heart health, lower cholesterol levels, and regulate blood pressure. Lately, more research has shown that Omega-3s can also relieve depression and feelings of anxiety.
Physical Activity or Exercise. A 2008 study that was published by the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health presented compelling evidence that women who exercised regularly and continued to do so after giving birth were less likely to develop PPD.
There are three reasons for this. First, exercise releases endorphins which make you feel better. Second, exercise helps manage hormonal imbalances. Third, women who exercise feel more in control of their physical appearance.
They know they are on the way to losing the extra weight and feel more revitalized after every exercise session. Thus, exercise is one of the most effective ways to cope with Postpartum Depression.
If you know someone who is dealing with Postpartum Depression, don’t be indifferent or condescend by saying, “You’ll be fine. That’s all in your head.” It may be in their head, but it may also affect their heart and overall health. Worse, it will pose a serious threat to the otherwise beautiful relationship between a mother and her child.
Ask her to get professional help. Talk to her family and seek more social support. Encourage her to exercise and follow a better diet. Best of all, be a friend. While there is no cure for Postpartum Depression, sometimes a willing ear can be the most powerful anti-depressant of all.