Postpartum depression – More than just baby blues

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that frequently affects new mothers. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of eight mothers experiences postpartum depression. Women suffering from this undergo feelings of extreme sadness, exhaustion and anxiety to the extent that it can hamper their ability to take care of the baby and the family.

According to the Mayo Clinic, several new mothers experience “baby blues” after childbirth, which manifest in mood swings, disturbed sleep, crying spells and fear. This usually resolves on its own, lasting between a few days to up to a couple of weeks. However, postpartum depression is far more severe and long-lasting than the baby blues. While signs of postpartum depression are similar to that of clinical depression, they also include feelings of anger, being disconnected from the baby or numbness, withdrawing from family and friends and worrying about hurting or not taking proper care of the baby. Many women may also harbour suicidal thoughts and display behaviour that indicate suicidal tendencies.

Postnatal mood disorders: Causes and symptoms

While there is no single clear cause for postpartum depression, physical changes and emotional upheavals both have a contributory role. Post childbirth, the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone in the mother’s body plunge, leading to chemical changes in the brain that can activate mood swings, says the National Institute of Medical Health (NIMH). Other hormones produced by the thyroid gland may also drop, causing exhaustion, sluggishness and depression. Stress, teenage motherhood, birth of twins or triplets, low social support, preterm deliveries, pregnancy and birth complications, and death of an infant are some of the factors that put new mothers at a higher risk of depression.

In a 2014 study, Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a sociology doctoral student at the University of Kansas, spoke to 30 mothers from Kansas and Missouri, belonging to low-income and middle-class households, who exhibited symptoms of perinatal mental health disorders, such as prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum psychosis. She found that some of the key factors that contributed to development of such conditions were sleep deprivation, breastfeeding troubles and unhelpful partners. She presented her study in the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Sleep deprivation and postpartum depression

With the public health focus on breastfeeding and its benefits, women who struggle with it might feel inadequate or that they are not good mothers. Dr. Tamar Gur, a women’s health expert and reproductive psychiatrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says that anxiety about breastfeeding can be difficult.

“For women who are suffering from postpartum depression, having difficulty breastfeeding can feel like a life-and-death matter. They feel that they have completely failed as a mother,” Dr. Gur says. Further, during the postpartum period, since most new mothers are also unable to get the rest they need, the constant sleep deprivation can also be a contributing factor to postnatal depression.

Considering increasing pressures that parenthood brings, it is imperative that both parents pay attention to their mental health, especially during the perinatal period (the weeks before, during and post childbirth). The partner and the family have to be very supportive instead of over-burdening the new mother with responsibility, expectation and judgment.

Road to recovery

Depression can seriously impact a person’s quality of life. It is crucial that a depression patient gets immediate help. If you know someone suffering from depression, contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline representatives who can guide you with information on the best mental health services in your area. Call our helpline number (855) 653-8178 or chat online with our experts for advice on the most effective mental health counseling programs in your vicinity.