Understanding and Treating Postpartum Depression

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For many moms, being pregnant is filled with wonderful moments of joy, excitement, anticipation and elation, which overshadows the morning sickness, breast pain, and fatigue. And once their bundle of joy arrives, many new mothers delight in this time to spend with their newborns despite a lack of sleep, feelings of exhaustion, and demands of their attention.

However, for some women, the initial days and weeks of motherhood provide different experiences.  For some, when their baby arrives, it feels like their world is falling apart. Rather than the elation many mothers feel, women who have postpartum depression may experience feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, extreme anxiety, sadness, depression, and restlessness.

While most mothers experience a hint of the “baby blues” (feeling weepy, sad, stressed, frightened, overwhelmed, and anxious) after being separated from their baby that has been a part of them for nine months, if these feelings persist more than a couple of weeks, talk to your doctor. There are treatment options for postpartum depression that can help. Treatment is essential especially if it’s impacting your ability to care for your baby, affecting relationships with your spouse, other family members, or friends, or causing you to contemplate harming yourself.

Signs of Postpartum Depression

The American Psychology Association tells us that up to one in seven new moms suffer from postpartum depression.

Many women who experience postpartum depression do so immediately after childbirth. It’s quite normal, however, for some women not to experience symptoms of postpartum depression until several weeks, or even months, after the delivery. If depression occurs within six months of delivery, it’s quite possibly postpartum depression.

The following symptoms are common among women who have postpartum depression. according to the National Institutes of Mental Health:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • No energy.
  • Irritability.
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt.
  • Showing little interest in your newborn.
  • Lack of motivation to do things.
  • Taking no pleasure in life.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Frequent bouts of tearfulness or crying.
  • Feelings of overwhelming sadness.
  • Wondering if life is worth living or feeling that it isn’t.
  • Moodiness.
  • Doubting your ability to care for your baby or family.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family.
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
  • Anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Difficulty concentration.
  • Inability to make decisions.
  • Easily rattled.

You don’t have to experience every symptom to have postpartum depression. Every woman has her own unique experience with the condition. It’s not something you can always diagnose on your own plus prompt treatment by a medical professional is crucial when you have this condition. The sooner you get it diagnosed by a professional and receive treatment, the faster you’ll begin the recovery process.

Causes of Postpartum Depression

There are many factors that can contribute to postpartum depression. While it often comes down to hormone changes that occur after childbirth, there are indicators or risk factors that make some women more susceptible to postpartum depression than others. These increased risk factors include:

  • Severe PMS prior to pregnancy
  • Depression unrelated to pregnancy
  • Emotional turmoil during pregnancy or immediately following childbirth
  • Financial stress
  • Illness of baby or concern over baby’s health while pregnant
  • Premature birth
  • Isolation or lack of support (women who are going it alone often experience postpartum depression)
  • Previous postpartum depression
  • Having a child with special needs

Of course, any woman can experience postpartum depression, even while having a picture-perfect pregnancy and home life and an entirely healthy baby. Don’t discount the potential of having postpartum depression simply because you don’t meet the risk factors mentioned above.

Treatment for Postpartum Depression

There are a variety of treatments considered for postpartum depression. You will have to work closely with your doctor to determine the ones that best meet your needs. Some of them include lifestyle changes, like the following:

  • Getting adequate sleep.
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Seeking help when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Learning to ask for help when you need a break.

Other postpartum depression treatments involve psychotherapy, participation in support groups with other mothers who have postpartum depression, and medications.

Breastfeeding mothers are often reluctant to consider medications for fear of affecting their ability to nurse. This is something you should discuss with your physician, especially if you experience some of the more intense postpartum symptoms.

Getting help for postpartum depression is the single most important thing you can do. If left untreated it can last for months or even years taking a substantial toll on your physical health as well as your ability to care for your baby. Your baby is also affected by your postpartum depression and may have trouble eating and sleeping as well as behavior problems as a result.

The important thing to remember if you have postpartum depression is that it’s not the result of something you did or did not due during your pregnancy. You did nothing wrong to cause the condition. Getting treatment, however, can help you find peace and relief from the feelings of guilt and hopelessness that seem so overwhelming.

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