Postpartum depression is not a commonly talked about phenomena. We normally are told that postpartum will be joyful with our new baby, and perhaps you might be teary eyed for a day or two. Until recently not much thought was given to treating or preventing postpartum depression.
Most women will experience a form of depression known as the Baby Blues. This is generally seen about three days after the birth and can last about two weeks. The normal reactions for this are: crying, irritability, anger, exhaustion, tension, restlessness, anxiety, and possibly insomnia. Hormones do play a large part in this, however, some is normal and should be expected, particularly considering the stress and strain of a new baby.
A fewer percentage of the women will have true postpartum depression. This is generally characterized by a worsening of the normal symptoms, possibly postpartum panic or mania, even obsessive-compulsive disorders (including repetitive thoughts that might be repulsive). Some women will even experience post traumatic stress disorders, particularly after a traumatic birth (individually defined).
"Well I had absolutely no desire to do anything. I became obsessed with childbirth...what I did wrong... my c-section caused it. Some things that have helped me is getting vocal. Talking to ladies here (the Internet), getting involved in ICAN," says one mother.
Very few women will go to the far extreme, but I will briefly mention postpartum psychosis. This is generally seen with most of the previous symptoms, plus hallucinations, confusion or delusions. This is very serious.
So who is at risk?
We had little information until recently about risk factors, but we have been able to determine that there are some predisposing factors for postpartum depression. We do know that there are three components to determining risk: biological, psychological, relationship factors.
Risk factors for Postpartum Depression:
- History of depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive thoughts or behavior, mania
- Prenatal depression
- Family history
- Marital conflict
- Prior episode
- Low confidence as parent
- Baby's personality, health or disability
- Single parent
- Super woman syndrome
- Hormonal risks (thyroid imbalance, PMS, infertility, etc.)
I'm at risk, so now what?
There are many things that you can do to help ease postpartum depression before the birth of your next baby. One of the big things would be a good postpartum plan. One of the big things that this will do is to help you map out the trouble areas.
First of all, you need to remember to take care of yourself. Take breaks, accept help from others, nurture yourself. We tend to forget ourselves and become very absorbed in the baby. It is important that mom is well cared for too. This makes caring for the baby easier.
Be realistic. Avoid major life changes. It's too much to ask to find a new job, move across the country and find a house within a month before the baby is born. Try your best to finish all major life changes before becoming pregnant. If that isn't possible, do them as early in pregnancy as possible.
Develop a support system. One thing I always tell new moms is have a list of things that need to be done. When someone calls and offers support, read from the list. Not only does it help, especially if you have problems requesting help, but it keeps you a bit more organized. Most people genuinely want to help you.
Getting support from a professional before the end of your pregnancy is not a bad idea either. They can help you work through any issues you have, even if they are not birth related. This can also be someone to call on after the birth, someone you have a previous relationship with. Not to mention, this person will be able to help you map out your plans for postpartum emotionally. There are also support groups available.
Medications for depression are a hot topic for pregnant women. There have been some recent studies relating preterm labor and other problems with some of the anti-depressants taken during pregnancy. So make sure that you discuss this with your practitioner before attempting it.
When to seek help:
- When following self-help plan and symptoms last more than 2-3 weeks
- When talking feelings out with people does not help
- Great difficulty with daily living
Remember that postpartum depression is very treatable. Find some ongoing support, make some plans, and sit back and enjoy.