Content warning: This article mentions suicide and suicidal thoughts and may be triggering to certain individuals.
Having a new baby is often a pleasing and beautiful moment for both expecting mothers and their families. The preparations for the big day are commonly extensive, from setting aside a new room to the baby shower and many other exciting activities for the new baby. Yet, the moment shortly after delivery may be stressful for the new mother. Childbirth is regarded as a major emotional and physical stressor in a new mom’s life.
Most women experience some changes in their mood shortly after delivery. These changes are normal and regarded as “baby blues.” Baby blues usually start within the first three days after childbirth and may last for two weeks. Some of these changes are exacerbated and prolonged in some women longer than is expected. Several factors may contribute to these exacerbated changes in some women.
Defining Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a severe, intense, and long-lasting form of “baby blues” that arises after the birth of a child. It is a common medical condition experienced in the postpartum period, with 1 in 8 women experiencing depression within the first six months after delivery. Postpartum depression has become a global mental health concern affecting millions yearly. Studies, for example, showed that about 65% of new moms in Asia face postpartum depression.
People with postpartum depression usually present with intense anxiety, sadness, or despair that makes them have trouble functioning normally. These feelings usually last longer than baby blues, which tend to resolve within two weeks after delivery. Postpartum depression may take various forms, and it could be missed on diagnosis for a long time.
Postpartum depression is a complex mix of emotional, physical, and behavioral changes experienced by some women shortly after delivery. These experiences have been attributed to the chemical, social and psychological changes that surround childbirth.
It is important to note that fathers and partners may experience depression shortly after welcoming their new babies. Hence, it’s not only limited to women who go through childbirth. PPD doesn’t spare any race, culture, or class; anyone who welcomes a child into their life may experience these distressing mood disturbances.
Factors That Predispose to Postpartum Depression
There is no known single cause of postpartum depression. However, there are physical and emotional factors that may predispose one to experience depression after welcoming a child. It is believed to be largely caused by the interaction between genetic and environmental conditions. The risk factors for postpartum depression are the age of the mother at the time of pregnancy, history of depression or bipolar disorder prior or during pregnancy, birth complications from a previous pregnancy, the number of children before the index pregnancy, hormonal changes due to pregnancy, history of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), loneliness, lack of social support, and marital conflict. Also, people with infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or those treated for infertility, or who have conditions such as thyroid disorders or type I or II Diabetes.
What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
Symptoms of postpartum depression vary largely; the duration and how intense these symptoms become may vary from person to person. Hence, a careful monitoring of symptoms by the new parents is important to help them take the next steps to recovery. These symptoms are similar to those of depression but may include other symptoms.
When the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks after delivery, normal functioning is affected, or there are suicidal thoughts, seeking help is vital. The symptoms of postpartum of depression can include:
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, reach out to 911 or call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., you can dial 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or, use the webchat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
Knowing the Numbers
Though there are missed cases of some people who may have experienced postpartum depression or have been wrongly managed, studies have shown that about 70% to 80% of women after delivery will experience mood disturbances, 1 in 8 women may experience depression after delivery, 10-15% may have a more disabling condition of postpartum depression, and 0.1%-0.2% may face a rare form of postpartum psychosis.
About 50% of women diagnosed with postpartum depression have their first episode of depression after delivery. Also, about 50% of women diagnosed with postpartum depression usually experience symptoms of depression prior to the birth.
And according to the American Association of Pediatrics, more than 400,000 infants are born to depressed mothers every year.
About the risk factors, studies have shown that 30% to 35% of those with a history of depression, mood disorders, or anxiety disorders are likely to develop postpartum depression. A person with a previous history of postpartum depression is 10% to 50% more likely to come down with depression in subsequent childbirths.
Also, about half of women with postpartum depression first began experiencing symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Emphasizing the need for pregnant women to assess themselves for depression during pregnancy is thus important in order to pick out symptoms early enough. When the symptoms of postpartum depression are observed early, getting them treated and on the path to recovery can be much faster.
Postpartum Depression and New Fathers
Postpartum depression isn’t limited to new mothers; new parents in general can also experience a depression similar to their partners. There are cases of new fathers who had depression shortly after their wives delivered their babies. Studies showed that 10% of new fathers faced depression, presenting with depressed mood, fatigue, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, anxiety, or sadness.
Also, half of the new fathers whose wives had postpartum depression may also experience depression within a year. The likelihood of new fathers experiencing postpartum depression is greater in young fathers, those with a previous history of depression, financial struggles, or bad relationship experiences in the past.
According to research in 2010, there were findings that showed that 4% of new fathers experienced depression within the first year of welcoming their babies. And 1 out of 5 fathers experienced one or more depressive episodes by the child’s 12th birthday.
New fathers with symptoms of anxiety or depression, as described above during their partner’s pregnancy or within the first year after delivery, should seek help. At BetterHelp, competent professionals are always ready to meet your needs and help you through these challenges.
Treating Postpartum Depression
Picking out the symptoms of postpartum depression early is essential for a prompt and swift recovery, significantly reducing risk to the mother or her baby, and the prevention of future episodes. Also, assessing susceptible women during pregnancy would go a long way in anticipating the likelihood of a depressive episode after delivery.
Postpartum depression is serious, and people affected by it should get appropriate help as soon as possible. The symptoms profile guides the modality of treatment, and that is determined by the professional. The modalities of treatment include medication, therapy, or both. The forms of therapy include Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy are proven to be effective in treating postpartum depression. If these methods don’t yield better results as expected, brain stimulation techniques such as Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used.
It is important to educate the new mom and her family about the mental distress she experienced and the need to get registered early at a health facility for subsequent pregnancy. Also, supportive therapy may help a mother to child bonding just before hospital discharge in cases of long child neglect due to PPD.
Complications of Postpartum Depression
Leaving someone with postpartum depression untreated poses more challenges to the mental health of the new parent, their baby, and family. This could severely affect the parent-to-child bonding, cause neglect of personal care, and care for the baby. Failing to breastfeed, touch, or believing the baby being someone else’s can further increase the chance of harm to the baby. Hence, mothers with severe PPD shouldn’t be left alone to care for their infants.
Poorly treated or untreated individuals with PPD may be dangerous to themselves and family. Postpartum depression may become a psychosis with delusions and hallucinations. Also, children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression may later develop behavioral or emotional problems like excessive crying, eating and sleeping difficulties, or delayed language development.
Preventing Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a distressing mental illness that poses a lot of challenges to new parents and their families. However, postpartum depression may be prevented by offering psychological and supportive care to the new mothers following childbirth. Supportive care includes peer support, home visits, and interpersonal therapy.
Screening for susceptible women for depression at least once during pregnancy or in the first year after delivery was recommended by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in view to prevent the disintegrating nature of postpartum depression. Also, behavioral health resources were recommended for those with a positive screen. With these recommended screenings and follow-up care, it was shown to be cost-effective at restoring a better quality of life to those affected.
Postpartum depression is a severe mental health condition in new parents that can require urgent medical intervention. With varying frequency and intensity of symptoms sometimes makes it difficult to be recognized early. Hence, proper screening and assessment during pregnancy and after childbirth may help in reducing its frequency of 1 in every 8 pregnant women. Postpartum depression isn’t limited to women; there are cases of new fathers who experienced depression within one year after welcoming their babies. Studies have shown that half of the partners of women that experience postpartum depression may come down with depression.
You can learn more about postpartum depression and possible ways to prevent or pick up its symptoms early by checking out other articles on the subject. Should you have questions or clarifications on the subject or other related subjects, you can also schedule an appointment with competent mental health professionals through BetterHelp.