A woman’s body and mind go through many changes during and after pregnancy. In the first few weeks after childbirth, most new mothers feel anxious, tired, and overwhelmed. These emotional challenges are sometimes referred to as the “baby blues”. Postpartum depression is when these challenges are severe and persistent and makes it extremely difficult for the woman to take care of her new-born.
Postpartum depression affects around 1 in 7 women yet 1 in 5 women don’t receive necessary support or treatment due to several factors such as lack of awareness, social stigma, struggling in isolation due to associated guilt and embarrassment.
What causes postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression may be triggered by a combination of physical and emotional factors related to pregnancy. Although each woman’s experience of motherhood is different and hence, multiple and distinct stressors are involved in psychological wellness of a new mom.
Physical factors that cause postpartum depression
Hormonal changes have a predominant influence on the emotional well-being during and post pregnancy. The levels of estrogen and progesterone are higher than usual in pregnancy. Within hours of giving birth, hormone levels drop back to their previous state. This abrupt change may lead to depression. Some other physical factors may include:
- Low thyroid hormone levels
- Sleep deprivation
- Inadequate diet
- Pre-existing medical conditions
- Alcohol and drug misuse
Emotional factors that cause postpartum depression
A woman with a history of psychiatric illness is more likely to develop postpartum depression. Other
emotional stressors may include –
- Recent divorce or death of a loved one
- Social isolation
- Financial burden
- Lack of support
Are some women more at risk of postpartum depression?
Although any new mother can face various degrees of psychological challenges regardless of age, ethnicity or how many children she has, there are few things that might increase the risk of developing postpartum depression. For example –
- History of depression or other mood disorder.
- Unwanted or difficult pregnancy.
- Having twins, triplets, or other multiples.
- Having baby born prematurely or with health problems.
- Being in an abusive relationship.
- Over-exhaustion as a result of less to no external help or support from partner, friends or family members.
How is postpartum depression treated?
The common types of treatment for postpartum depression are:
- Therapy – Consulting a therapist, psychologist or a counsellor helps women learn coping strategies to ease the emotional impact associated with postpartum depression. Therapy can be beneficial in isolation or in combination with other medication depending on the individual symptoms and severity of depression.
- Medicine – The most common type of medication administered is antidepressants. Some
antidepressants are safe to take if while breastfeeding while some may not be. The
prescribed medication is in accordance with severity of symptoms and possible side effects that may impact motherhood.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – This can be used in extreme cases (postpartum psychosis). Postpartum psychosis is a rare occurrence. When it does happen, it’s usually within the first few weeks after delivery. Psychosis is more likely if you have a history of mood disorders. ECT may be recommended if symptoms do not respond to medication and psychotherapy.
What can I do at home to feel better while seeing a doctor for postpartum depression?
There are few alternate remedies one could adopt while taking treatment from a health care professional –
- Rest as much as possible.
- You shouldn’t attempt to shoulder more responsibility than you can handle. Others may not
instinctively know what you need, so it’s important to tell them.
- Make time to go out, visit friends, or spend time alone with your partner.
- Talk about your feelings with your partner, supportive family members, and friends.
- Join a support group. Talk with other mothers so that you can learn from their experiences.
- Don’t make any major life changes right after giving birth. They can cause additional stress.
- It can also help to have a partner, a friend, or another caregiver who can help take care of the baby while you are depressed.
Taking care of yourself is an essential part of motherhood. It’s important for a woman feeling depressed during pregnancy or after childbirth to talk about her symptoms and not suffer in isolation. Getting timely and necessary treatment is important for both the mother and baby. Seeking help is a sign of strength.