The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect — depression.
Many new moms experience the “postpartum baby blues” after childbirth, which is a normal occurrence and includes mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. This is usually due to hormonal imbalance in the body following child birth as well a side effect of the ‘trauma’ the body endures during labor.
Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks. But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. This more severe form is usually recognized several weeks after delivery. Overall, it affects about 10% to 16% of women.
Symptoms of mild PPD include sadness, anxiety, tearfulness and trouble sleeping. These symptoms usually appear within several days of delivery and go away 10 to 12 days after the birth. Usually, the only treatment needed is reassurance and some help with household chores and care of the baby. About 20% of women who have postpartum blues develop more lasting depression.
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin later — up to six months after birth.
Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months maybe even longer. One of the worst things about our society is ignorance towards mental health. A great taboo looms over anyone with a mental issue and that person is deemed crazy and unstable and is targeted by many.
Most of the times people don’t even pay much attention to such problems, simply telling the sufferer to ‘knock it out’, ‘be a man’, or ‘get over it’. This kind of societal rejection makes the sufferer think there’s something wrong with them and without a safe space to talk about their issues, they tend to keep it inside and hide whatever mental illness is destroying their life.
Especially with PPD, the mother tends to feel guilty about a condition that is beyond her control and never asks for any help, thinking it will make her sound like a bad mother and she will become a target for scrutiny from family and in laws.
A representative from the Ziauddin University psychiatric department says, “It is absolutely heart breaking to see women post-labor, who are clearly depressed and not feeling like themselves but refuse to talk about it and ask for any help at all. Most of the time we are called for a psych consult by the doctors and nurses on the case rather than the family members or mothers themselves because the word ‘psychiatrist’ is like a shameful word for them.”
PPD is not only something a pregnant woman should be aware about but also the husband and other family members, as the most important way one can overcome such hardships is by patience, love and support.
People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they’re depressed. They may not be aware of signs and symptoms of depression. If you suspect that a friend or loved one has postpartum depression or is developing postpartum psychosis, help them seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait and hope for improvement.