Post-Partum Depression: A Special Report

Motherhood is one of the most memorable moments in a woman’s life. Your body has been the vessel for a new life that will come into the world. This little person is a blank slate. They are like a miniature adult who is looking to you for guidance, love and care. It is a big responsibility not only for the mother but both parents.

Parenthood in general can lead to all sorts of anxieties: Will I be a good parent? What will my child think of the job I’m doing? Can I handle the responsibility? Even parents who plan for their children have these kinds of questions.

That is why it is not uncommon for mothers to experience a mix of feelings after baby is born. Her body has been turned upside down by the presence of another human life so it will take a lot of time for her to get back to “herself.” Now that there is a baby in the picture, it can be harder to do.

In light of these circumstances, many moms experience a down period following the birth of their child. Does that mean that you are a bad mother? No it doesn’t. It could however mean that you need help taking care of your child until the situation passes.

Unfortunately, sometimes it does not pass. These are the situations that cause concern and have peppered the news every now and again with horrific stories of mother and child tragedies. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves here.

In this report we will discuss what follows motherhood in the first weeks after baby is born. Baby blues and postpartum depression will be the topic. People use these terms interchangeably but are they really? Keep reading to find out exactly what each one is and if there is cause for concern when they are present.

Baby Blues

When you hear the term “baby blues” you think of a sadness that can envelop a woman with a new baby. It can seem like a mixture of anxiety, fear, lack of sleep and raging hormones. This can also sound like puberty but let’s not digress.

Baby blues is used to describe that period of time that follows birth in a good portion of women. It can seem out of character for a woman to be depressed when she has witnessed a miracle. But, it does happen.

Symptoms

Baby blues is a mild form of depression that occurs after birth and can last from a few days to a few weeks. It is characterized by trouble sleeping, irritability, crying and sadness. This can raise red flags with partners because the time is typically joyous.

Mothers themselves may be concerned at their behavior. You can consult your obstetrician to ask if it is normal. She will assure you that it is.

Why it Occurs

No one is certain why this happens. The popular reasoning is due to the changes in hormone levels. They are in a constant state of flux during pregnancy and that continues afterwards.

Mothers deal with breast issues after birth that can be distressing. There is the possibility of engorgement and mastitis especially if they are breastfeeding. It is quite painful and can hinder feeding and the enjoyment of the process.

Depending on how you delivered (vaginally or cesarean) there will be pain. This makes it even harder to get around and tend to the baby. With surgical procedures, there is also wound care that must be addressed.

Partners try to help but often feel powerless to do anything of significance. They are not as adept at waking up when baby cries as mother is and that can be tiresome in the beginning when you are supposed to be sharing the responsibility.

What Family Can do to Help?

What a new mother needs is support. It used to be that she called her mother in to help but with busy schedules and everyone working to make ends meet, this is a hard proposition. Outside of mother, a new mom needs a method of support close to her that she can lean on for help with baby issues, her health issues and just a few minutes to take a bath. Getting that support can be the difference between the baby blues lasting a few days and a few weeks.

One thing that sets baby blues apart from other conditions like postpartum depression is that the mother is still capable of taking care of herself and her child. It has not been linked to depression or stress. Baby is not being neglected no matter how tired she becomes. Her child is still the center of her world.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a more serious form of baby blues. It can lead to a depressive disorder that needs to be addressed. There are actually two types of postpartum depression and most people are not aware of that.

This condition is a form of depression that most often occurs after the birth of a child. Some woman may experience it after their first child or each child they deliver. It usually shows up in the first few months after delivery and can follow baby blues if certain risk factors are present.

It may interfere with the mother’s ability to care for her child. The child is still the center of her world but she is now faced with fears that she may harm the baby in her present state. She may or may not voice these feelings to her partner or other family members.

Postpartum Psychosis

This is the second form of postpartum depression. It is a disorder that goes beyond thoughts of harming self and on to thoughts of harming the baby as well. As with other forms of psychosis there are delusions that cloud the mother’s thinking and also everything that she does for baby. This form of postpartum depression can be misdiagnosed and that is dangerous.

Symptoms

This is actually a form of clinical depression. Without treatment it will continue and may develop into something worse. Women who experience postpartum depression can display some classic depression symptoms but also a few that are specifically related to pregnancy.

The main red flag here is that the mother will tend to her baby less and less. She will rely on family and her partner more and more. This could be mistaken for tiredness if other symptoms were not present.

Some of the symptoms of postpartum depression include: anxiety (about baby and caring for him, crying, constant sadness, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in everyday life, moodiness, guilt over not taking care of baby, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and lack of sleep. It is not just talk when a mother says that she is scared of her feelings or her child.

Crying incessantly is not normal either. There is at the very least, a measure of depression going on here that someone has to help with.

Most women either experience the baby blues or postpartum depression. Postpartum psychosis does occur but it is not a common condition amongst mothers. When it does occur it is important to know the symptoms so you can recognize them.

It is not unusual to experience the symptoms of postpartum depression but there are other symptoms that make this disorder stand out: hallucinations, hearing voices, psychosis (delusions), mood swings, paranoia and thoughts of harming the baby. It is not just tiredness or fatigue that is driving the things that a mother in this condition is saying.

Causes

Anyone can have the baby blues but postpartum depression can have a root in hormonal changes in the body. Now that the baby is delivered and the placenta no longer needs to be maintained, hormone levels can plummet suddenly. This can have a poor effect on the mother in the weeks following birth if the woman is sensitive to hormonal swings.

Past incidence of depression or other mental illness may play a role in predisposing the mother to postpartum depression. If her depression was controlled with medication she may be in better shape than those who were never diagnosed.

The symptoms sound similar to those who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Because it is rare it could be assumed that it is an extension of untreated postpartum depression. It is hard for women to admit that they are having a problem taking care of their child so they hide their feelings.

A woman with postpartum psychosis may appear normal and well-adjusted to others in social settings but different behind closed doors. This can confuse partners and those close to the mother into believing that the condition is only temporary and minor.

Risk Factors

The first risk factor is previous postpartum depression. It is not uncommon for the condition to reoccur with subsequent children especially if it was not diagnosed properly the first time. Women who have experienced depression previously before pregnancy need to be careful and consult their doctor if they believe they are having feelings similar to when they were clinically depressed before.

There are risk factors that occur outside of the body as well. For one, if another traumatic event is occurring at the same time as the pregnancy and birth, it can color the way that the new mother views her situation. This includes but is not limited to: divorce, father of the baby leaves the pregnant mother or even losing a job or relocating. Lack of family support can also lead to a profound sadness because you are now alone with your child. With such high hormone levels, it becomes harder to cope with the stresses and they can manifest themselves as a postpartum disorder.

The way that a mother views herself and her role after pregnancy can also contribute to depression at this time. Her body is all out of whack from delivery. She is caring for the baby and at the same time believes that she is no longer sexy to her partner. To add to that, sometimes the rectus muscles are overly distended during delivery and are hard to whip back into shape.

The lack of sleep can contribute to the overwhelming nature of motherhood in general. There is no book to accompany delivery and a first-time mother can be quite uncertain that she has the motherly instinct. On the flip side, she may only see herself pigeonholed as mother and fear losing her previous identity.

Previous miscarriages are also a factor in postpartum depression. The mother may fear that this will happen again. She may have become depressed before and be at risk again.

This condition is linked to previous bipolar disorder, clinical depression and episodes of psychosis. A woman with this type of medical history needs to be monitored for developing the more severe psychosis.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is also not an uncommon precursor to postpartum psychosis. It is different from premenstrual syndrome in that symptoms are more severe and can actually interfere with your ability to complete daily activities and responsibilities in your life. It can be treated with certain birth control pills, but that will stop when you decide you want to get pregnant.

Getting Help

Learning when to get help from professionals will take a concerted effort from mother, partner and family members. Mothers may be in denial because they believe that they are supposed to be happy about becoming a mother. She may deny her symptoms and even try to hide it. With depression, however, the symptoms will again resurface.

Moms, there is nothing wrong with getting help. Depression is a condition with a lot of stigma attached but you can break the cycle. When you haven’t felt yourself for several months following your pregnancy, it is time to talk to someone. Suicidal thoughts are not part of routine baby blues and are a sign that you are having trouble coping with motherhood and life in general.

When you feel yourself descending into alienation and anger, talk to a friend or even better, your partner. Ask them if they would accompany you to see your doctor. Your obstetrician can recommend a mental health professional who can diagnose you with postpartum depression and prescribe further treatment.

Fathers, mothers are tired from caring for baby and this is your chance to jump in and help out. Pay particular attention to what is going on at the times when she needs help most. Does she lie in bed all the time? Is baby crying and she is nowhere to be found? What about mood swings?

These things are not normal for post delivery. Ask her how she is feeling. If you get no response convey your concerns to her doctor. He or she can take your description of the situation and let you know if there is cause for concern. It could mean the difference between life and death for the mother of your child and/or your child.

Since this condition is not common, treatment can begin as soon as you notice the symptoms. It is not normal to hear voices or listen to them. Delusions are not a result of lack of sleep. If thoughts of hurting the baby are expressed or the baby seems to experience a lot of minor accidents in mom’s presence it is time to get help.

Moms, if you are overly fearful for your child’s safety, call 911 and your doctor. Get to a hospital right away for evaluation and treatment. This condition will not go away by itself.

Help from Family

The usual course of treatment for depression is the one that is most often followed for postpartum depression. A mix of cognitive behavior therapy and self-care may be recommended at first before any medication. Your family can help you with this.

Mothers always need time away to reconnect with themselves. Set up a support system of individuals who will be there for you at a moment’s notice when you need it. At the top of that list is your partner.

When both parents are present in the home, take a walk alone or take a soothing bubble bath. Time spent alone each day helps you to put things back into perspective.

Participate in a support group. Sometimes family members are too close to you to be objective about your treatment. Participating in group therapy sessions can also bring them closer to an understanding of your situation so they are more able to help with a solution to the problem.

Medical treatment is often needed when depression reaches this point. Family members can take up the slack of caring for baby while you are under treatment and trying to recover. Lack of judgment is appreciated as you try to return to a place where you are able to care for your child again.

Postpartum depression and baby blues are a possible outcome for women after they deliver. One way to help you avoid or even head off more serious conditions is to recognize the symptoms so you know when you get help. If you have had a previous bout with depression tells your doctor. They can put you in touch with professionals who can develop a plan to fight back against this risk factor.

Above all, create a network of support that can sustain you through all stages of the postpartum period. Even if you are experiencing baby blues, a partner who understands and gives you your space to be mother, wife and individual can help set you on the path to happy motherhood and a nurturing time with your new baby.

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