Postpartum Depression: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and What To Do
The Baby Blues has become as much an accepted part of being a new mother as engorged breasts and sleep deprivation. But what if the Blues don’t go away? For 10-20% of new mothers, Postpartum Depression, or more generally Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are an unwanted and difficult part of the first year of motherhood. The causes of PPD are many, and can include hormonal and lifestyle changes, a lack of social support, sleep deprivation, a high-risk pregnancy, a traumatic birth or difficult recovery, or breastfeeding problems. You are also at a higher risk of a PMAD if you have suffered previously from depression, or have recent losses or trauma in your life.
Symptoms of PMADs can include:
- Feeling sad, depressed, numb, or crying a lot
- Restlessness or irritability
- Unusually strong feelings of anger or resentment
- Lack of energy
- Having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, numbness, tingling, dizziness or nausea, hyperventilation or other unexplained physical symptoms
- Difficulty sleeping or excessive tiredness
- Loss of appetite or conversely, overeating and weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions, or confusion
- Excessive worry about the baby or lack of interest in the baby
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
- Obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors
- Fear of hurting the baby or yourself
Many mothers experience only a few of these symptoms, but if you feel like something is wrong and you’re not quite yourself, that is an important signal. If these symptoms persist for two weeks or more, or you are hearing voices or seeing things that other people don’t hear or see or having urges to hurt yourself or the baby, you should get support by talking to her doctor or a mental health professional. PMADs are highly treatable conditions, with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
If you need medication and you are told that you must give up breastfeeding, make sure you get the expert advice of a psychiatrist who is knowledgeable about medications for breastfeeding mothers. There are a few antidepressants which are routinely prescribed for breastfeeding mothers with almost untraceable amounts detectable in the baby’s bloodstream. Moreover, breastfeeding can be beneficial both for the depressed mother, the long-term health of her baby, and bonding, which is even more challenging when a mother is depressed. The decision whether to continue breastfeeding should be based on the overall risks and benefits to the mother and baby.
Depression not only affects you: it affects your relationships with your partner and your baby. Untreated, depression in mothers can lead to bonding difficulties and delayed development or failure to thrive in their babies. Getting the help you need to recover quickly is the best thing you can do for your baby and yourself.
Most importantly, tell your support people (your family, friends, partner) how you are feeling. The burden of trying to seem happy and “keeping it all together” can make the depression worse. You need to lean on the people who care about you, get as much help as you need until you’re back to feeling like yourself, and don’t beat yourself up for having a PMAD. It is NOT YOUR FAULT.