Understanding Postpartum Depression

Motherhood is supposed to be a life changing experience for women - and that it is. But the change need not always be perceived as positive, contrary to society’s general expectation of new mothers.

“You must be overjoyed” they say.

“Becoming a mother is the best thing that will ever happen to you” they say.

“You must never want to be apart from your child.” they say.

And while these statements might ring true for many mothers, they do not ring true for all new mothers.

Surely you have heard of the phrase ‘baby blues’, commonly understood to be a temporary phase (less than 2 weeks) of mild sadness, fatigue and irritability that new mothers experience after having just given birth. While this is quite common, it is short lived and usually tapers off within 2 weeks of the baby being born.

Some mothers however, (1 in 9 new mothers, to be specific, according to the Office on Women’s Health, UK report) experience longer lasting and more intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety, which can be diagnosed as Postpartum Depression (PPD).

Postpartum depression is a type of depression that arises after a woman gives birth and is characterised by a persistently poor mood. It's not the same as the "baby blues" that many new parents go through. It is hard to say what causes PPD, Environmental factors, as well as genetic factors, could have a role.

Postpartum depression can feel like....

“I feel guilty”

...because I’m not overjoyed at having a new baby.

...because I don’t want to spend every waking moment with my baby.

...because I don’t feel as attached to my baby as I thought I would.

“I feel shame”

...because I think I am a bad mother for feeling this way.

...because I am not able to care for my baby properly.

...because I think I am less of a woman for not being transformed by motherhood.

“I feel anxiety”

...because I am not able to get rid of these feelings.

“I feel irritated”

...because everyone is constantly telling me what a good mom should do.

“I feel alone”

...because nobody understands what it is I am feeling.

“I feel scared”

... because I don’t understand these feelings either.

Although different people are affected differently by postpartum depression, the following are some frequent indications and symptoms:

  • a low or sad mood

  • anxiety and irritability

  • fatigue and lethargy

  • feeling guilty, worthless, hopeless, or helpless

  • pain, such as a headache or stomach ache

  • a lack of appetite

  • difficulty thinking or focusing

  • low motivation and a lack of interest in activities

  • difficulty bonding with the baby

  • feeling unable to care for the baby

  • frequent or long bouts of crying

  • feeling unable to make decisions

  • withdrawing from friends and family

  • having no interest in the baby or feeling as if they are another person’s responsibility

When these symptoms persist for over 2 weeks they could be diagnosed as PPD, and can last upto 4 years. Although doctors have been unable to identify the exact cause, the following are a list of possible contributing factors: according to Medical News Today (UK):

  • past trauma

  • hormonal fluctuations

  • a previous diagnosis or family history of depression or bipolar disorder

  • the physical and emotional stress of delivery and childcare

  • added stress at work or at home

  • feeling the need to be a perfect parent but feeling unable to achieve this

  • having breastfeeding difficulties

  • having a substance use disorder

  • having a baby with special needs

  • having had an unwanted pregnancy

  • having a lack of support from family and friends

  • having had complications during delivery

To help a new mother who is experiencing postpartum depression, one can use a combination of medical, therapeutic and other support practices. A strong system of support around the new mom, including family and friends is essential, in addition to pharmaceutical or therapeutic interventions.

Support groups for new mothers are also a good way for new mothers to share their feelings in a safe space, free of judgement. Eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercise can also help manage symptoms of PPD.

If you are, or know of a new mom who might be experiencing similar feelings, follow our conversation this week!

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