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Postpartum Depression

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Postpartum Depression, or PPD, is a kind of disorder that afflicts an estimated 20% of women who have just given birth. While most new mothers will normally experience mood swings caused by fluctuations in their hormones during pregnancy and after giving birth, these so-called “baby blues” are considered normal, whereas Postpartum Depression is classified as a mental health disorder.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Women are twice more susceptible to men when it comes to experiencing depression, a mental state that affects about 25% of the U.S. population. Women are more likely to experience depression between the ages of 25 to 45, a period of time considered to be their primary reproductive years. They are particularly vulnerable while they are pregnant, or just right after they have given birth.

While “baby blues” will cause new mothers to be emotionally sensitive with a tendency to break into tears easily, it is not considered serious, and this result of hormonal changes often fades away after a month or so. Postpartum Depression, on the other hand, lasts much longer than a few months and affects 1 in 10 new mothers, usually occurring within the first few months after a woman has given birth. Postpartum Depression has been known to last for up to a year.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION CAUSES

The disorder causes the afflicted mother to exhibit the same symptoms as that of clinical depression. PPD is characterized by a constant feeling of sadness or hopelessness, often interjected by feelings of guilt and worthlessness. These feelings become so strong as to interfere with day to day tasks.

This mental disturbance causes the new mother to lose interest in the people, places and events around her, including the new baby. Conversely, a feeling of being overwhelmed about caring for the infant will cause the mother to become extremely anxious. This anxiety may foster constant obsessive worrying about the baby to the point where a mother suffering from PPD will exhibit compulsive repetitive behavior such as constantly checking the baby for any imagined injuries or health problems and repeatedly contacting the baby's pediatrician to verify these concerns.

Women with Postpartum Depression will also feel restless and constantly fatigued. They will be constantly worrying that they might hurt themselves or even their infants. In severe cases, these women lose all interest in food and stop eating. They are likely to develop insomnia, become increasingly frantic and even paranoid.

Other symptoms of PPD include an apparent lack of joy or happiness in life, a noticeable absence of emotion, physical and psychological withdrawal from family, friends and colleagues, a lack of or excessive concern for the baby, loss of interest in sexual intercourse, and the inability to concentrate or think clearly. Sometimes the new mother will even entertain suicidal thoughts.

While Postpartum Depression used to be widely regarded as a kind of weakness or character flaw in the past, something that afflicted mothers had to repress or hide, it is now considered a legitimate medical ailment which requires immediate treatment with the help of a mental health professional in order to control and manage symptoms.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION RISK FACTOR

While medical science has not yet isolated a singular cause for PPD, many factors play a role in the development of this mental disorder. The sharp drop in a woman's estrogen and progesterone levels, including low hormone production by the thyroid gland following childbirth can lead to depression. Researchers theorize that this decrease in hormone levels causes chemical changes in the brain that can lead to feelings of depression. The drastic change in blood pressure and volume, and a weakened immune system and metabolism can also contribute to the fatigue and mood swings that is typically experienced in PPD.
Postpartum Depression
Image: Postpartum Depression


Lack of sleep and a feeling of being overwhelmed may cause the new mother to have difficulty coping with small problems, especially if it is coupled with uncertainty about her ability to take care of the new baby. Other emotional factors include feeling a loss of physical attractiveness, and a sense of having lost control over her life. Additional causes of depression can include breastfeeding problems, lack of support from a woman's partner or family, financial difficulties, and a high-needs baby or demanding older siblings.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION TREATMENT

If PPD is left untreated, it may take a long while – even up to more than a year – for symptoms to disappear. During this period, the disorder may affect not only the mother, but also the rest of the family. Postpartum Depression can adversely affect a mother's relationship with her child and can cause tension and distress to build up within the family.

It has been found that children of mothers suffering from untreated PPD are likely to have behavioral problems themselves, such as eating and sleeping disorders, frequent temper tantrums and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). There have also been cases of delayed speech in these children. Some studies have pointed out that the severity of a mother's depression will coincide with how delayed the development of an infant will be, particularly during the first year of life, considered to be critical in terms of cognitive development.

A woman who feels depressed after having given birth should not be embarrassed to consult her doctor, particularly if the feeling of depression lasts for more than a couple of weeks and is severe enough prevent her from performing her daily tasks. Immediate medical intervention is important for a speedy recovery. Ignoring this disorder can result in dangerous thoughts, behaviors and actions.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION DIAGNOSIS

To diagnose for PPD, the doctor may begin by asking questions about the quality of a patient's life, including the state of the patient's emotions, eating and sleeping patterns. When Postpartum Depression has been diagnosed, the doctor may prescribed antidepressants and make a referral to a mental health professional or psychiatrist.

Treatment for PPD will depend on the severity of the patient's condition. PPD patients generally recover after proper counseling and antidepressant therapy. Sessions with a psychiatrist or a psychologist will equip the new mother with better coping skills to deal with the feelings of depression, including how to go about solving problems and setting goals towards recovery.

The patient may be given a prescription for antidepressants, including some that are safe to take even while breastfeeding. Hormone therapy may also help to replace the estrogen lost during childbirth, however, this may cause a decrease in the patient's breast milk production and increase the risk for blood clots forming in the lungs or legs. Other therapies include joining support groups and adapting a healthier lifestyle.


Taking care of oneself and knowing the risk factors and symptoms of PPD can help prevent the occurrence of or speed up the recovery time from Postpartum Depression. A healthy diet and regular exercise will also help ease the symptoms of this disorder. The new mother should also set realistic expectations and not put too much pressure on herself. Learning to ask for help when it is needed is also important.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION PREVENTION

Other preventive measures include making time for herself in order to take a breather, and avoiding isolation. Experts agree that the best way to take care of the new baby is for the mother to also take care of herself.

Postpartum Depression is treatable with early diagnosis and intervention. Most patients recover completely within 3 to 6 months with appropriate medication, counseling and support from family members and friends.
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