Women learn, somehow, that the addition of a baby into their lives will lead to a state of satisfaction and bliss. Postpartum Depression was not how they thought they’d spend their first year(s) as a parent. We are led to believe that the days and weeks after a baby is born should be the most joyful time in a parent’s lives. However, experience and research confirm it is one of the most stressful and anxiety provoking stages in the life cycle of a family. More than half of the women who give birth each year experience some decline in their mental health. For 1 in every 10 women, the period following the birth of an infant becomes a nightmare as they can’t sleep, become forgetful and confused, and find themselves on edge and worrying excessively during the already stressful adjustment to motherhood.
New moms are at risk of developing depression anytime within the first year post-pregnancy. Women may also notice concerns with anxiety and depression during pregnancy. Along with the tremendous strain of caring for a baby comes a decrease in time with one’s spouse, the decrease of adult friendships, and a loss of routine and freedom. The entire family finds this first year challenging too, as they attempt to adapt to a new routine and new roles, while knowing that their lives will never again be the same.
It doesn’t have to be this difficult. There is a way through. Among other strategies, Michele is a certified instructor of the Gottman’s “Bringing Baby Home” program for couples – a proven approach to help couples adjust to and enjoy life as parents.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a medical condition caused by changes in brain chemistry that can occur following childbirth. Hormone levels increase dramatically during pregnancy, particularly progesterone and estrogen. Then they decline rapidly within hours to days after delivery. Also, the feel-good hormones (endorphins) that are produced by the placenta during pregnancy drop significantly after childbirth. The thyroid gland can also be affected by the rapid hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth. All of these factors increase a women’s vulnerability to depression. Help is available in Langley.
How will I know if I have postpartum depression?
Experts describe three categories of postpartum mood disorders that are classified according to the severity and the duration of symptoms.
1- Most common of these is known as the “baby blues” and affects approximately half to three quarters of new mothers. “Baby blues” generally appears within a few days of childbirth (often around five days post-delivery). Women describe feeling more tearful, irritable, and anxious than what is usual for them, combined with an overall sense of being overwhelmed. Usually, the symptoms decrease by two weeks without medical or psychological help. Most women in this group recover reasonably well when they’re able to get more rest, some extra help caring for their baby, along with reassurance that these feelings are quite common and most likely, temporary.
2 – Psychosis is an extreme form of postpartum depression that occurs in only 1-2 of 1000 live births. Psychosis is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical care for the safety of both mother and infant. If you have
psychosis, you may be experiencing some of the following symptoms:
- Hearing sounds or voices when no one is present
- Feeling afraid that you might harm yourself
- Having thoughts about harming your baby
- Rapid mood changes
- Having distressing or unusual thoughts (i.e. fears that others intend to harm you or your baby)
- Feeling as though your thoughts are not your own, or that others can hear your thoughts
- Going without sleep for forty-eight hours or more
- Rapid weight loss and refusal to eat
- Feeling like you are “going through the motions” of taking care of your baby without feeling much love
3 – About 1 out of 10 women who give birth will develop postpartum depression. If you think that you are one of them, you might be:
- Exhausted but having difficulty sleeping when the baby sleeps.
- Lacking enjoyment in the maternal role.
- Feeling guilty about your parenting ability.
- Feeling depressed/sad much of the time
- Crying more than usual
- Unable to concentrate and feel like you’re in a fog
- Finding it difficult to remember where you’ve put things
- Unable to enjoy the things that you used to enjoy
- Feeling tired most of the day
- Feeling like you will always feel this way
- Afraid to be alone
- Wishing you were dead or could escape
Often, symptoms go unrecognized because you and/or your partner may think your experience is an expected part of caring for an infant. You might be feeling embarrassed, guilty, and have a mistaken belief that a “good mother” is capable of coping with the overwhelming adjustment of becoming a new parent, with little or no need for support. Sometimes postpartum depression is missed because it shows up a little later, such as during weaning a baby from the breast or the return of menstruation, which are both significant hormonal events that can alter the biochemical balances in the body and affect the timing of a depression. Postpartum depression can show up anytime in the first year. Treatment of this medical condition helps both mother and child.
Am I at risk for a postpartum mood disorder?
Although there is no exact science that will predict a postpartum depression, some known factors do increase your risk:
- a personal and/or family history of depression or bipolar disorder
- a previous postpartum depression
- if you have been depressed during pregnancy and have a history of premenstrual mood syndrome
- marital and/or family tension
- health problems with the baby
- a complicated pregnancy or delivery
- a lack of social support
- a childhood history of sexual abuse or trauma
- chemical dependency in your family
- confusing or negative feelings about the pregnancy
- feeling uneasy about your new role as a mother
If one of more of these risk factors applies to you, it is possible to reduce your chances of developing postpartum depression. Speak with your doctor or consult a mental health professional.
Can I prevent postpartum depression?
A postpartum depression may not be preventable in all cases, though it certainly is possible to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms, should they occur. Even before delivery, identify the stressors in your life and reduce or eliminate them where possible. Actively recruit a support system during pregnancy so that you will feel less alone and overwhelmed after the baby arrives. Enlist the support of people around you in the early months so that you will have some free time, and be able to get some rest (i.e. not running errands and doing chores every time your baby sleeps). When things are challenging, or you start to feel sad or overwhelmed, do not deny your feelings or feel guilty for having them. Educating yourself about postpartum mood disorders is one of the best ways to ensure early diagnosis and treatment. Postpartum mood disorders are treatable. Seeking the help of a physician and a qualified Langley therapist is essential.
What are the treatments for a postpartum mood disorder?
Decisions about treatment for postpartum mood disorders vary according to the severity of symptoms. Professional opinion, however, often supports the use of antidepressant medications in combination with therapy from a qualified couple and family therapist. Working with a couple and family therapist, treatment will include an assessment of contributing factors, after which you will work together on specific concerns. Involving other family members in treatment is also effective as it allows the family and/or partner to better understand the depression and be a source of support for the mother. A couple and family therapist may work with individuals and/or the family as a whole to identify solutions that can be implemented right away.
Group therapy with other women who are experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, has also been found to improve depression by reducing isolation that many women feel in the early months of parenthood. It is important to know that if you are breastfeeding, options are available – it may not be necessary to stop nursing while taking antidepressants. Be sure to consult with your doctor about medication options that are appropriate for your particular circumstances.
Postpartum mood disorders are treatable; with a little help, you can find your resilience. Asking for help is difficult for many women. It’s also the first step to feeling better. Seeking help will benefit both mother and baby. Call or email Michele in Langley today.