What is Postpartum Depression?
The “Baby Blues” are common for most women who have just experienced the life-altering process of giving birth. Hormone levels go up and down after labor and delivery. These changes can trigger mood swings, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and more. But what many new mothers may not be prepared for is when that mild, exhausting sadness turns into weeks of debilitating depression. 1 in 7 new mothers may experience what doctors call postpartum depression or PPD. It can be frightening for a woman who had expected to feel joy and elation upon the birth of her child to, instead, feel overwhelmed; constantly fatigued; disinterested in the baby and maybe even suicidal. These feelings then bring unnecessary shame and guilt making it difficult for mothers to ask for the help they need.
How to deal with postpartum depression? It’s important to recognize the symptoms, and if they have lasted longer than two weeks, to get professional help as soon as possible. It can shorten the duration of the disease and help Mom get back to feeling like herself again and enjoying her newborn.
Who is at Risk for Postpartum Depression?
Despite the wonderful joy that a newborn can bring, the year following childbirth is the most vulnerable time for a woman to experience a mental health disorder such as postpartum depression. Many factors may play a role, such as:
- Previous depression or postpartum depression
- First-time mothers
- A family history of mental illness
- A substance abuse history
- Complications at delivery
- Extreme sleep deprivation
- A very difficult or health-challenged baby
- Not enough support from family and friends
- High levels of stress
What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
While there are a wide range of symptoms, some of the more common are:
- Continuous feelings of sadness and uncontrollable crying
- Severe sleep problems – inability to sleep or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite – eating too little or too much
- Excessive irritability, anger, worry, or agitation
- Extreme lack of energy and motivation
- Inability to get pleasure from previously enjoyed activities
- Lack of interest in the baby, friends, and family
- Extreme feelings of guilt, worthlessness, despair, or hopelessness
- Inability to concentrate or make decisions
- Thoughts of harming the baby or yourself
Not every woman will experience every symptom, but if you can say “yes” to several of these symptoms, then it would be wise to speak with your doctor and explore the treatment that is best for you. A complete medical evaluation, including thyroid screening, is necessary as under or overactive thyroid and other diseases can mimic depression or anxiety symptoms.
What is the Treatment for Postpartum Depression?
Much like when parents are instructed on an airplane to put the oxygen mask on themselves first, mothers must learn to care for their mental health in order to give the best care to their children. There is no shame in feeling depressed after giving birth. Talk openly with your spouse, partner, family, trusted friends and healthcare provider. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with baby care. Eat healthy, nutritious foods and get light exercise such as walking and stretching with the approval of your doctor. Seek mental health treatment as soon as possible. Learning how to treat postpartum depression early is critical to getting proper care. The following treatments are crucial to help postpartum depression:
Psychotherapy — A process through which a mother can talk through her struggles with a counselor. Psychologists teach patients how to develop skills to manage feelings and cope with problems.
Medication Therapy — There are a range of antidepressant medications that are prescribed to treat varying degrees of PPD. Coordination of care between your psychologist and the prescribing medical doctor can be most helpful to your recovery. Your physician can help you to determine a safe medication if you are breastfeeding.
Support Groups — The impact of a shared experience can be a powerful healer. Joining a group of other mothers with similar struggles can help you understand you are not alone in postpartum depression. Education, compassion and assistance are all readily available in a support group.
Ask your healthcare provider to help you find a PPD support group near you.
Postpartum Depression Self Care — Sleep when your baby sleeps; avoid alcohol as it is a depressant; get back to doing the things you loved before giving birth; set realistic goals for things like housework or big projects. Yoga, meditation, massage and relaxation training may also help someone with postpartum depression.
How to Help Someone with Postpartum Depression
Listen to Her Feelings — Be there to provide support without judgement. Validating her feelings will make her feel heard and understood.
Don’t Compare — Don't say things like “When I had a baby I did this,” or ”If you do this, you will feel better.” Many mothers with PPD already feel like they aren’t a very good mom. Help her find ways how to cope with postpartum depression by avoiding comparison and not amplifying her guilt and shame by comparing your experience with hers.
Remind Her this is Temporary — It may feel like it will never go away but the symptoms are only a reflection of the disease and not the person.
Make Specific Plans — Helping someone overcome postpartum depression requires specific plans to help in practical ways. Decision making is already hard for a mom with PPD, so decide when you can bring a meal or spend an hour or two watching the baby while mom takes a nap.
Reassure Her — Tell her she is a good mom even if she doesn't feel like she is. Tell her when you notice improvement. Maybe she’s laughing again or smiling more. This reassurance can be just the encouragement someone needs to cope with postpartum depression and start to see the positives in the recovery process.
Postpartum Depression Prevention
According to Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health, recent research shows that “teaching new parents about normal infant sleeping and crying patterns and providing them with techniques for infant settling improves mothers’ depression scores [and leads to postpartum depression prevention]. There were no differences in scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) at 4 months, but at 6 months, caregivers in the intervention group were almost half as likely to score higher than 9 on the EPDS…”
Swaddling reduces two common parent stressors: Persistent crying and poor infant sleep. Because of this benefit, swaddling is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Reducing crying reduces mom exhaustion thereby reducing PPD. It’s important that babies are able to be calmed so that moms can stay calm and get rest as well. Woolino swaddle blankets provide the magic of merino wool to help babies settle more quickly, cry less, sleep longer, feed better and gain weight faster.
Simply educating parents on how to soothe a crying baby at night can make the difference in maternal mental health. Sleep deprivation is a serious component of postpartum depression and parents who foster better baby sleep will sleep better themselves. Better sleep is one way to prevent postpartum depression.
Dealing with postpartum depression is difficult, but most mothers are encouraged to know that with proper care and treatment you will typically recover in a matter of months. And although you may be more at risk of PPD with subsequent pregnancies, you now have the tools to deal with whatever challenges may come.