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Postnatal (Postpartum) Depression – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is postpartum depression?

Having a baby is a life-changing event. It affects a woman’s home life, job, relationships, and even everyday skills like doing dishes or folding laundry. While many women handle this transition fairly well, not everyone has a positive experience with it. In fact, 10-20% of new moms become overwhelmed and depressed. They are experiencing something called postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is depression that occurs anytime in the first year after a child’s birth. It can affect anyone: men or women of any race, culture, or social class. Women with postpartum depression often feel embarrassed or ashamed and separate themselves from their friends and family who can help them through it.

Realize that depression is a normal response to stress, and having a baby is certainly stressful – physically, relationally, and emotionally. Some women become depressed because their bodies are changing and they don’t know how to react. Some women may not feel like they are going to be good mothers, unsure of how to take care of their child or how to relate to a baby. Others may not feel comfortable introducing a child into the family. Until now, it has just been them and their partner. A child might become “competition” for attention or simply bring more stress into the marital relationship.

Many people believe that postpartum depression is not serious and will simply go away on its own. However, it can have some harmful effects and needs to be addressed so that both mom and baby (as well as the rest of the family) can stay healthy.

Photo by Ashley Byrd on Unsplash

Postnatal depression in males

Is it true that the dad of the newborn might suffer from postpartum depression? Yes. The studies show that approximately one-fourth of new fathers suffer from moderate to severe forms of parental postpartum depression (PPPD) or paternal postnatal depression (PPND). However, only about 10 percent of postpartum depression in men is recorded, and many cases go undetected.

As in the mother of a newborn, new fathers often feel overwhelmed, stressed, or tired. If these symptoms go away on their own after a couple of weeks, the condition is termed “Daddy Blues”. But, in cases of postpartum depression, the symptoms are much more severe and long-lasting.

Symptoms of postpartum depression in men are:

  • Decreased social involvement
  • Persistent low energy and fatigue
  • Substance abuse
  • Overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated
  • Exhibition of violent or aggressive behavior
  • Feeling angry and irritated most of the time
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Is It Postpartum Depression or ‘Baby Blues’?

The feeling of sadness or “baby blue” usually starts when your newborn is just 2 or 3 days old. It is normal to have this feeling for about 2-3 weeks and you are likely to feel better by the time your baby is around 15 days old.

If this mood swing or sad feeling doesn’t go away in 1-2 weeks after delivery or if the condition becomes worse instead of better, you might be suffering from what’s called postpartum depression. Although it is not as common as baby blue, about 10 percent of mothers still have this rare but severe form of depression.

If it is the baby blue, the mood swings intermittently from happiness to sadness. Being exhausted, the new mom doesn’t like to eat or take care of herself. Likewise, she might feel overwhelmed, anxious, and irritable.

But, if the new mother is a victim of postpartum depression, she feels worthless, alone, sad, or hopeless all the time. She feels like she hasn’t done a good job as a new mom. Similarly, she is not maintaining a strong bond with the new baby. In more severe conditions, she might have anxiety and panic attacks.

Postnatal depression causes and risk factors

Though many mothers may struggle with postpartum depression, some women are more likely to experience it than others. If you find yourself dealing with any of the following physical, psychological, or social factors, know that each one adds another depth to your depression that affects how you interact with your baby and even how you live day to day.

Sleep Deprivation

As a new mom, you know that fatigue and sleep deprivation are just part of the picture. Newborns wake up every three or four hours to be changed and fed. But if you cannot sleep even when your child is sleeping, have trouble falling asleep because you’re afraid of what may happen if you aren’t watching your child, or struggle with fatigue for longer than three or four months, this can be contributing to your postpartum depression.

Sleep allows the body to recover and re-energize for a new day. Moms who aren’t getting enough sleep are not only lacking the energy and alertness to care for their child, but they are also more prone to delusions. Exhaustion hurts both you and your child.

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However, you may also be tired because you have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when the body doesn’t produce enough of a chemical called thyroxin. This can make it hard to focus on. It can also make you tired and forgetful.

Sleep deprivation, whatever it is caused by, can have serious effects and should be addressed immediately.

Weak Immune System

Postpartum women can experience a weaker functioning of their immune systems. This is influenced by a continually high level of stress, which is affected by factors such as lack of sleep, financial pressure, and potential relationship issues with your partner. A weaker immune system means your body isn’t equipped to handle illness as well as it normally does. You are more likely to get sick because your body is fighting fatigue and stress instead of fighting off a cold or infection. Is your body handling the stress and the physical changes of motherhood well?

Constant Pain

Women recovering from delivery, whether they had a C-section or a vaginal delivery, often deal with a consistent level of pain for days to weeks afterward. Incisions and lacerations need time to heal. Engorged or swollen breasts or cracked nipples can make nursing uncomfortable and painful. Plus, sore muscles and headaches can affect your daily movements, making it difficult to care for yourself, let alone your child. Such an intense level of pain can add to your postpartum depression. Are you experiencing a lot of pain?

Changed Levels of Hormones and Cholesterol

After delivery, hormones are all out of whack. Some hormone levels rise, while others fall sharply. Plus, cholesterol levels often drop. All of these can contribute to depression because they are affecting the chemical balance in a woman’s body. How are your hormone and cholesterol levels?

Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression

If you have had a child in the past year and are feeling somewhat down, you may be asking yourself if you are experiencing postpartum depression. Though depression can manifest itself in different ways, here are some things to look for:

Difficulty concentrating
Do you find it hard to focus on a specific task? Are you able to follow along in a conversation? Some women struggle to complete everyday chores like folding laundry, taking a shower, or running errands.

Low self-esteem
Have you lost confidence in yourself? Do you believe you are able to take care of yourself and your baby? Do you feel good about your body? If you are struggling with these things, depression may be affecting your self-esteem.

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Apathy and social withdrawal
Have you stopped attending a class or social event you used to love? Do you avoid conversations and interactions with your family and friends? Women with postpartum depression often isolate themselves from others.

Negative feelings
Do you feel anxious, angry, worthless, or guilty? Are you overwhelmed with everything you have to do as a new mom? Do you feel a lot of stress because of the financial pressure you may be under? Are you afraid of what your life will become now that you are a mother? Do you think about killing yourself?

Physical changes
Do you struggle to sleep at night, or are you sleeping all the time? Have your eating habits changed for the worse? Are you losing a lot of weight quickly? Have you lost interest in taking care of yourself (i.e., showering, brushing your hair, etc.)?

Substance abuse
Have you been drinking too much? Are you taking illegal drugs or too many prescription medications?

Negative feelings towards the baby
Do you think about giving your baby away? Do you believe your child would be better off with someone else? Are you angry at the changes your child may have had in the relationship you have with your partner? Do you want to harm your child?

If you are experiencing these things, know that there are steps you can take to manage your depression and come out on top of it.

Treatment for postpartum depression

The “Baby blues” goes away on its own within 2 weeks. If it doesn’t subside or the symptoms persist for more than a few months, you should seek medical attention. Psychotherapy and medication are two available treatment options for postnatal depression. More than 90 percent of mothers (and fathers) with postpartum depression can be treated effectively with medication or a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

But in cases of severe depression or postpartum psychosis, hospitalization may be required. Few cases of severe postpartum depression need to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for successful management of depression with hallucinations or delusions.

Postpartum depression is not a serious condition for many fathers and mothers of newborns if it is detected and managed at its early stages. So, it is necessary to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If it is detected late or left undetected, the condition may worsen. Untreated postpartum depression is not only harmful to the day-to-day life of parents, experts have found that children can be affected by a parent’s untreated postpartum depression.

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