Many people think the first days and months after giving birth should be the happiest and most magical time of a woman's life, but not all women experience it that way. Postpartum depression, also called postnatal depression, is a form of depression that occurs after childbirth and affects as many as 15 percent of mothers, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Aside from the typical signs of postpartum depression, the condition is further complicated by the mom feeling guilt for not appreciating the new child. This self-perception may cause affected mothers to close off and avoid discussing their feelings with others, which is why it's so important that family and friends are able to recognize the signs.
The condition should not be viewed as a weakness or flaw. It's quite common and can be treated, and if you're the one affected, know that it doesn't have anything to do with being a good mother or caring for your new child. Some women fall in love with their baby over time; it's OK if you don't experience that feeling right away after giving birth.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Signs of postpartum depression typically appear as a combination of symptoms that aren't much different from regular depression, including:
- Constant feelings of sadness
- A lack of enjoyment from old hobbies and favorite activities
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Increased anxiety
- Low self-esteem
Postpartum depression may not appear until six months after the child is born, but more often it develops in the first few weeks of motherhood. It may last a few months. If left untreated, it could develop into a chronic depressive condition.
Risk factors include a history of depression or bipolar disorder in the patient or her family, significant life stresses, or if the baby has major health issues. Interventions such as talk therapy and increased psychological and social support, both during and after pregnancy, can help reduce the likelihood that postpartum depression will develop -- or at least better equip new mothers to deal with it.
If postpartum depression does occur, treatment may include counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and sometimes antidepressants. Antidepressants are rarely used for breastfeeding mothers unless the need is pronounced, because this medication will enter the breast milk. Your obstetrician is trained to watch for signs of postpartum depression, but it's still important to provide her information about the symptoms.
Practice Good Self-Care
Giving birth and caring for a baby is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, and it's easy to become overwhelmed and drained. Luckily, there are several methods to help you feel better. The following tips are good advice for moms who are not experiencing depression, as well:
- Get real. Let go of perfectionism and high expectations. There is a good chance you need a meal, a bath, a change of clothes, and a nap, but the baby needs all those things, too. Find ways to work personal time into your baby-care routine.
- Get out of the house. Take the baby for a walk when you can. Meet with a friend so you feel less isolated; conversations with other adults can help you stay connected. Consider joining a support group for new moms.
- Get help. Talk to your doctor, let people know how you're feeling, and be sure to accept their help. You have a lot to deal with, and offered aid will bring relief, companionship, and rest.
Take care of yourself so you have the emotional and physical strength to take care of your baby. If you are experiencing depression, get help; it can help you better connect with your baby and enjoy motherhood.