The birth of a new baby evokes several emotions for the parents. There are usually joyful emotions, which is what society typically expects. There may also be anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. Many mothers experience post-partum blues. These are characterised by frequent mood swings, bouts of crying, sleeping difficulties and feelings of anxiety. If these symptoms are severe, they may signify postpartum depression. New fathers can get postpartum depression as well. A few women may also get postpartum psychosis.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder among women who have had a baby. In many parts of the world, some people term it “thinking too much” and “worrying too much.”
When does postpartum depression start?
Post-partum depression usually starts within 4 weeks of having a baby, although it can start anytime within 12 months of having a baby. It is sometimes a carryover of depression during pregnancy. It lasts from weeks to months and requires treatment.
Is postpartum depression common?
Around 1 in 7 mothers experience postpartum depression. It is estimated to be higher in low- and middle-income countries.
Some of the factors that can contribute to postpartum depression include
- A sharp drop in certain hormones in the mother after childbirth
- A previous experience of depression
- A history of depression in the family of the new mother
- Being overwhelmed and stressed with taking care of the baby and other responsibilities
- Lack of social support
- Financial problems
- Having a baby who cries a lot and whose sleep and hunger patterns are unpredictable
- Difficulties with relationships with partner
- Abuse and family violence
- Having a difficult birth experience
How do you know you may have postpartum depression?
If your postpartum blues last longer than 2 weeks, or if you are experiencing any of the following, you may have postpartum depression. Some of the symptoms are
- Feelings of anxiety
- A loss of interest in things that used to interest you
- Loss of interest in food
- Excessive mood swings such as anger and irritability
- Uncontrollable sadness and crying
- Inability to fall asleep, stay asleep or sleeping too much
- Disinterest and inability to bond with the baby
- Uncontrollable fear of not being a good mother and fear of causing harm to your baby
- Persistent aches and pains with no apparent cause
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
How is postpartum depression different from postpartum blues?
Postpartum blues usually start within 3-4 days after birth and last from a few hours to a few days. Although they have similar symptoms as postpartum depression, these symptoms are milder and last for only a few days. Postpartum blues usually resolve on their own.
Effects of postpartum depression
Postpartum depression affects mothers, their babies and their families in a negative way. Children of women with postpartum depression are more likely to experience eating and sleeping difficulties, behavioural problems, language deficits and developmental delays. Partners or husbands of women with postpartum depression may also experience depressive symptoms themselves. Untreated postpartum depression can have an impact on all aspects of a woman’s life. It can deprive her of social participation, such as being able to attend family events and faith gatherings like church service, and her ability to work and earn an income.
What should you do if you are feeling blue?
- Try to get adequate sleep, rest and exercise
- Ask for help with household chores and taking care of the baby-it takes a village!
- Do some things that interest you apart from taking care of the baby such as reading, taking a walk or watching a movie. Your life isn’t over simply because you have a baby
- Talk to someone about your feelings or emotions. This could be your partner, your mother or a family member. It could also be your Pastor, Imam or any faith or community leader you trust
- If your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, tell your nurse or doctor about them. Also consider seeking help from a psychologist or mental health professional. You can call the hotlines 233577690753, 233572232619 in Ghana or any mental health helpline in your country Postpartum depression exists, and negatively affects mothers, their babies and their families. Your children do not want a perfect mother but they need a happy mother, because when you are happy, you can care better for them. It is not shameful to seek help.
Written by Buruwaa Adomako Agyekum (PhD), Psychologist.
Edited by babychidandco staff.