Having a baby should be a joyous occasion; however, as many as 10 to 15% of new mothers get an unexpected baby gift: postpartum depression. While most women, up to 80%, will feel some mild emotional symptoms after the birth of their child, for some, these feelings can have a much more severe negative impact on their lives. In the most extreme cases, postpartum depression can lead to a new mother being unable to care for her baby or herself or even to thoughts of harming the baby.
Not Just the Baby Blues
Emotional changes are quite common after giving birth to a child. The reasons for this aren't entirely clear, but hormonal changes after the birth are thought to play a part. Levels of estrogen and progesterone, which are much higher than usual during pregnancy, plummet back to their former levels right after birth. The lack of sleep and increased responsibility that come with having a new baby in the house can also contribute to emotional issues and feelings of loss. Feeling anxious about one's ability to care for a child, restlessness, or tearfulness are all quite common immediately after childbirth, but these feelings usually go away on their own within a few weeks.
For some, however, these feelings either do not fade or emerge later, a month or more after the birth of the child. Symptoms of postpartum depression are more severe and can include sadness, irritability, a loss of appetite, feeling worthless, guilty, or disconnected from the world, anxiety, a lack of energy, or even thoughts of suicide. A woman suffering from postpartum depression might also have little interest in the baby, be unable to care for herself or the baby, or have negative feelings toward the baby.
Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression
Many things in a woman's life can make her more prone to postpartum depression. Having a history of mood disorders or a family history of depression can play a role, as can being younger than 20, having an unplanned pregnancy, enduring a difficult pregnancy or childbirth, or having a baby born with a health problem. A lack of support from your partner, family, or friends can also contribute to the onset of postpartum depression, and so can worries about money or negative feelings about becoming a mother.
Signs to Watch For
Those who have postpartum depression may experience persistent feelings of depression; be ashamed of themselves or feel like a failure; or feel anxious or scared. Women with postpartum depression might also find themselves having difficulty concentrating, lacking interest in things they used to enjoy, or eating a lot more or less than usual. They might also have trouble bonding with the baby or exhibit an active avoidance or disinterest in the child. Thoughts of sell-harm or harming or the baby may also plague the new mother.
Talk to your doctor right away if you think you might have postpartum depression. Left untreated, these symptoms can not only negatively impact your life, but can also affect your ability to bond with and take care of your baby. Your doctor might recommend that you seek counseling or join a support group to work through your feelings. They might also prescribe antidepressant medication; various options are available, including some that are safe for women who are breastfeeding.
You can also do some things for yourself to try to improve your state of mind. Try to eat a healthy diet and get as much sleep as you can. Also, reach out to those close to you and ask for and accept help: Let someone watch the baby so you can get out of the house or have a "date day" with your significant other, and take people up on offers to bring you food or help with chores that need doing. Do your best to take care of yourself and let others take care of you. Getting the help you need is the best baby gift you could get, for yourself and your child.