The birth of a baby can trigger a wave of powerful emotions, from excitement and elation to fear and feelings of being overwhelmed. However, it can also result in something you might not be expecting — depression.
Most new moms experience postpartum "baby blues" after childbirth which typically last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born. These symptoms are normal to experience for a short amount of time. Signs to look for commonly include:
· Mood swings
· Feeling overwhelmed
· Reduced concentration
· Appetite problems
· Trouble sleeping
But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression.
· Approximately 70% to 80% of women will experience, at a minimum, the “baby blues”. Many of these women will go on to experience the more severe condition of postpartum depression.
· The reported rate of clinical postpartum depression among new mothers is around 10% to 20%.
· One study found that 1 in 7 women may experience postpartum depression in the year after giving birth. With approximately 4 million live births occurring each year in the United States, this equates to almost 600,000 postpartum depression diagnoses annually.
These numbers only account for live births. Sadly, many women who experience a miscarriage or have a stillbirth or sleeping birth can experience postpartum depression symptoms as well. When including women who have miscarried or have had a stillbirth, around 900,000 women suffer from postpartum depression annually in the United States.
Looking at these numbers, it isn’t hard to believe that postpartum depression is a much more common issue than these statistics reveal. Some medical experts believe that the rate of postpartum depression could be at least twice as much than what is actually reported and diagnosed. If symptoms go unreported and untreated, they cannot be accounted for in statistics. Unfortunately, depression remains a taboo subject in our society. However, the more awareness we bring to it and the more we are willing to speak out about it, the less taboo it will become. I personally have experienced postpartum depression and most everyone that knows me would tell you that I am one of the strongest, most resilient people they know. Little did they know all the dark days I suffered in silence that stretched into years for me.
Another important factor to consider about postpartum depression is that it can affect people from all cultures, races, ethnicities and educational or economic backgrounds. Additionally, postpartum depression doesn’t only affect new mothers, it can affect fathers, too.
Studies have found that:
· Approximately 10% of new fathers experience symptoms of depression during the postpartum period.
· Half of men who have partners with postpartum depression will go on to develop depression themselves.
Postpartum depression in new fathers
A surprise to many, new fathers can experience postpartum depression, as well. They may feel many of the same symptoms mothers with postpartum depression experience.
Fathers who have a history of depression, experience relationship difficulties or are financially struggling are most at risk of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression in fathers, sometimes known as paternal postpartum depression, can have the same negative effect on partner relationships and child development as postpartum depression in mothers can.
If you're a new father and are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety during your partner's pregnancy or in the first year after your child's birth, talk to your health care professional. Similar treatments and supports provided to mothers with postpartum depression can be a highly beneficial treatment for postpartum depression in fathers.
There is no known cause of postpartum depression. There is nothing wrong with you and it is not an indication of weakness if you experience postpartum depression. There a number of risk factors that increases your likelihood of developing it.
Here are some statistics regarding specific risk factors.
· Women with a history of depression, anxiety disorders or serious mood disorders are 30% to 35% more likely to develop postpartum depression.
· If a woman has experienced postpartum depression with previous births, she is 10% to 50% more likely to experience it again.
· It is believed that 50% of women who develop postpartum depression began experiencing symptoms during pregnancy. This proves the case for early symptom-recognition, awareness and access to treatment.
· While postpartum depression can affect people of all backgrounds, people in poverty or who have poor access to education and health care may run a higher risk. Data suggests 25% of people of this demographic will develop postpartum depression. One study found that women of low social and economic status were 11 times more likely to develop postpartum symptoms than women of higher social and economic status.
· One study found that over 60% of women with postpartum depression also had signs of an anxiety disorder, a condition which isn’t always associated with depression.
· Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder is believed to occur in 3% to 5% of childbearing women.
.As with all forms of mental health conditions, early recognition and treatment of postpartum depression can lead to an overall better outcome with symptom management and faster recovery rates.
Postpartum depression symptoms
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for “baby blues” at first. However, the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer. They may eventually interfere with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin earlier during pregnancy or come on later up to a year after birth.
Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:
· Depressed mood or severe mood swings
· Excessive crying
· Difficulty bonding with your baby
· Withdrawing from family and friends
· Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
· Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
· Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
· Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
· Intense irritability and anger
· Fear that you're not a good mother
· Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
· Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
· Severe anxiety and panic attacks
· Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
· Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.
There's no single cause of postpartum depression, but physical and emotional issues may play a role. Your body has just completed a nine month roller coaster of changes and emotions.
· Physical changes. After childbirth, a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in your body may contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and down.
· Emotional issues. When you're sleep deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor problems. You may be anxious about your ability or know-how to care for a newborn. You may feel less attractive, struggle with weight gain or your sense of identity, feel that you've lost control over your life and your independence. Any of these issues can spark postpartum depression.
Any new mom can experience postpartum depression and it can develop after the birth of any child, not just the firstborn. However, your risk increases if:
· You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times
· You have bipolar disorder
· You had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy
· You have family members who've had depression or other mood disorders
· You've experienced stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss
· Your baby has health problems or other special needs
· You have twins, triplets or other multiple births
· You have difficulty breastfeeding
· You're having problems in your relationship with your spouse or significant other
· You have a weak support system
· You have financial problems
· The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted
Left untreated, postpartum depression can interfere with mother-child bonding and cause a host of family problems.
· For mothers. Untreated postpartum depression can last for months or longer, sometimes becoming a chronic depressive disorder. Even when treated, postpartum depression increases a woman's risk of future episodes of major depression.
· For fathers. Postpartum depression can have a ripple effect, causing emotional strain for everyone close to a new baby. When a new mother is depressed, the risk of depression in the baby's father may also increase. And new dads are already at increased risk of depression, whether or not their partner is affected.
· For children. Children of mothers who have untreated postpartum depression are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems, such as sleeping and eating difficulties, excessive crying, and delays in language development.
If you have a history of depression — especially postpartum depression — tell your doctor if you're planning on becoming pregnant or as soon as you find out you're pregnant.
· During pregnancy, your doctor can monitor you closely for signs and symptoms of depression. He or she may have you complete a depression-screening questionnaire during your pregnancy and after delivery. Sometimes mild depression can be managed with support groups, counseling or other therapies. In other cases, antidepressants may be recommended — even during pregnancy.
· After your baby is born, your doctor may recommend an early postpartum checkup to screen for signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. The earlier it's detected, the earlier treatment can begin. If you have a history of postpartum depression, your doctor may recommend antidepressant treatment or psychotherapy immediately after delivery.
When to see a doctor
If you're feeling depressed after your baby's birth, you may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit it. If you are experiencing postpartum depression, call your doctor and schedule an appointment to talk about what you are feeling and how best to proceed. You are not weak nor a failure for reaching out for help. Remember many others are and have experienced the same thing you are going through.
It's important to call your doctor as soon as possible if the signs and symptoms of depression have any of these features:
· Don't fade after two weeks
· Are getting worse
· Make it hard for you to care for your baby
· Make it hard to complete everyday tasks
· Include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
If you have suicidal thoughts
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, seek immediate help from your partner or loved ones in taking care of your baby and call 911 or your local emergency assistance number to get help.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
· Seek help from your primary care provider or other health care professional.
· Call a mental health professional.
· Call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use their webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
· Reach out to a close friend, loved one or support group.
· Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else trusted in your faith community.
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