What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression, (PPD) is a complex mix of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that occurs in a woman after giving birth. PPD is a form of a major depression that starts within four weeks after delivery. Postpartum depression diagnosis is based not only on the length of time between delivery and beginning, but also on the severity of depression.
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Postpartum depression is connected to social, chemical, and psychological changes associated with having a child. The term describes a range of physical and emotional changes that many new mothers experience. The good news is postpartum depression can be treated with medication and therapy.
The chemical changes involve a rapid drop in hormones after delivery. The connection between this drop and depression is still vague. However, what is known is that the levels of female reproductive hormones – estrogen and progesterone, increases greatly during pregnancy. Then, they drop sharply after delivery. By three days after a woman gives birth, the levels of these hormones drop back to what they were before she got pregnant.
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Additionally, chemical, social and psychological changes associated with having a baby create an increased risk of depression.
What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression symptoms are similar to what happens normally after childbirth. They include:
However, these are also accompanied by other symptoms of major depression, which are not normal after childbirth, and may include:
- depressed mood
- loss of pleasure
- feeling worthless
- hopelessness and helplessness
- suicidal thoughts or thoughts or hurting someone else.
Risk Factors for Getting Postpartum Depression
A number of factors can increase the risk of postpartum depression, including:
- a history of depression prior to becoming pregnant
- marital conflict
- age at time of pregnancy, the younger you are, the higher the risk
- uncertainty about the pregnancy
- the more children you have, the more likely you are to be depressed in a subsequent pregnancy
- limited social support
- living alone
Is Postpartum Depression Common?
Most new mothers experience the symptoms after delivery. About one out of every 10 of these women will develop a more severe and longer-lasting depression after delivery. About one in 1,000 women develops a more serious condition called postpartum psychosis.
Are There Different Types of Postpartum Depression?
There are three types of mood changes women can have after giving birth:
- The “baby blues”: This occur in most women in the days right after delivery, and are considered normal. A new mother has sudden mood swings, such as feeling very happy and then feeling very sad. She may cry for no reason and can feel irritated, irritable, restless, anxious, lonely, and sad. The baby blues may last from only a few hours to as long as one to two weeks after delivery. The baby blues do not usually require treatment. Often, it helps to join support groups for new moms.
- Postpartum depression (PPD): This can happen a few days or even months after childbirth. PPD can happen after the birth of any child, not just the first child. A woman can have feelings similar to the baby blues such as despair, anxiety, irritability, and sadness. She feels them much more intensely than she would with the baby blues. PPD often keeps a woman from doing the things she needs to do every day. When a woman’s ability to function is affected, she needs to see her doctor. This doctor can screen her for depression symptoms and develop a treatment plan.
- Postpartum psychosis: This is a very severe mental illness that can affect new moms. This illness can occur quickly, often within the first three months after delivery. Women can lose touch with reality, having auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren’t actually happening, like a person talking) and delusions (strongly believing things that are clearly irrational). Visual hallucinations like seeing things that aren’t there are less common. Other symptoms include difficulty in sleeping, feeling agitated and angry, pacing, restlessness, and strange feelings and behaviors. Women who have postpartum psychosis need treatment right away and almost always need medication.
Do Anxiety or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms Increase With Postpartum Depression?
Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder that are new hardly occur in the postpartum period (about 1%-3% of women). The obsessions are usually related to concerns about the baby’s health, or illogical fears of harming the baby. Panic disorder may also occur. Both conditions often coexist with depression.
Tips for Managing After Childbirth
Here are some tips that can help you manage with bringing home a newborn:
- Ask for help let others know how they can help you.
- Be realistic about your expectations for yourself and baby.
- Exercise: You can exercise within the limits of any restrictions your doctor may place on your level of activity. Taking a walk outside the house may help.
- Expect some good days and some bad days.
- Follow a sensible diet; avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Nurture the relationship with your partner by creating time for each other.
- Keep in touch with family and friends, avoid isolating yourself.
- Limit visitors when you first go home.
- Screen phone calls.
- Sleep or rest when your baby sleeps
How Is Postpartum Depression Treated?
Postpartum depression is treated depending on the type and severity of a woman’s symptoms. Treatment options include anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and participation in a support group for emotional support and education. For postpartum psychosis, drugs used to treat psychosis are usually added.
Don’t assume that you can’t take medication for depression, anxiety, or even psychosis if you are breastfeeding. Under a doctor’s supervision, many women take medication while breastfeeding.
When Should a new Mom Seek Professional Treatment?
If postpartum depression is left untreated, it can be dangerous for new moms and their babies. A new mom should seek professional help when:
- symptoms persist beyond two weeks.
- inability to function normally.
- she can’t cope with everyday situations.
- she has thoughts of harming herself or her baby.
- she is feeling extremely scared, anxious, and terrified.