Postpartum Depression: Get Help Fast
70 to 80 percent of women will experience, at a minimum, the “baby blues” after giving birth. But what happens when the baby blues consumes your entire life, making it difficult to care for your newborn baby? Then you’re most likely dealing with a case of postpartum depression
Awareness of postpartum depression has been on the rise since the 1980s — yet new moms who struggle to connect with their babies and celebrate the birth of their new child still face tremendous stigma, from family, friends and other moms. Because of the judgment surrounding postpartum depression, new moms may hesitate to get help for the condition.
As much as 40 percent of women who may have postpartum depression do not seek help for the disorder. It’s important to shed the stigma surrounding postpartum depression, not least of all because of the dangers of not seeking help for this debilitating disease.
Untreated postpartum depression can lead to trouble bonding with your baby, difficulty caring for your baby or even thoughts of harming yourself or your baby — potentially resulting in death by suicide. In fact, postpartum depression is associated with significant maternal and neonatal morbidity if left untreated. But that’s not the only reason why you should seek help quickly for postpartum depression….
Here’s why you should always get help fast if you suspect that you or a loved one suffers from postpartum depression.
What is postpartum depression?
The baby blues are incredibly common, but what about when these baby blues become more severe? Postpartum depression, also known as “peripartum” or “perinatal” depression, most often occurs after the birth of a child (though it may also occur during pregnancy). The disorder leads to disruptions in mood, motivation, and interest that may interrupt your ability to care for yourself and your newborn infant.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
It’s not unusual for new moms to experience symptoms of postpartum depression after the birth of their child. Here are some of the ways postpartum depression may impact your daily life:
- Mood swings, including anxiety, sadness and irritability, often result from changes in hormone levels after pregnancy. Mild mood swings are normal as your hormone levels return to normal; however, severe mood swings, including depressed mood, may signify postpartum depression. Consult a medical professional if you are unsure if your symptoms are abnormal or severe — though generally speaking, they are considered severe if they frequently disrupt your daily activities and get in the way of your responsibilities.
- Difficulty bonding with your baby doesn’t mean that you are a bad mother: if you are suffering from postpartum depression, you may not feel those warm, fuzzy feelings of attachment right away. Treating postpartum depression can alleviate these concerns, allowing you to bond more readily with your baby.
- Withdrawal from family or friends may indicate that you aren’t feeling like yourself. Though motherhood often means that you are busier than you used to be, if you find yourself constantly rejecting invitations for play dates or to spend time with your significant other, this could be a sign that you are suffering from postpartum depression.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy is an important sign of postpartum depression. Just because you became a new mother doesn’t mean your life should revolve around your baby. You should still find pleasure in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy — and if you don’t, you may have postpartum depression.
- Fear that you’re not a good mother plagues all new moms from time-to-time, but if you feel this fear has become overwhelming or paralyzing, you may be suffering from severe anxiety, which can signify postpartum depression.
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby will probably scare you at first, but these intrusive thoughts are actually quite normal for women with postpartum depression. Suffering from visions of harming yourself or your baby doesn’t necessarily mean that you will hurt yourself or your child. It simply means that you are suffering from the trauma of birth, and may need professional help overcoming your postpartum depression.
How is postpartum depression diagnosed?
Having one or two of these symptoms alone is not enough to diagnose a woman with postpartum depression. Because the baby blues are so common and considered normal for new mothers, it’s important to distinguish between a mild case of the baby blues and the severe condition of postpartum depression.
Psychologists diagnose psychological disorders using a manual called the DSM-V, which outlines criteria for diagnosing various mental disorders. The DSM-V defines postpartum depression as a condition occurring during pregnancy or within four weeks of giving birth.
To qualify for a diagnosis of postpartum depression, a new mother must experience five symptoms of postpartum depression, with one of those symptoms being depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. According to the DSM-V, these symptoms must also cause the new mother significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
Current clinical guidelines suggest that all women should be screened for postpartum depression during and after pregnancy. Your primary care doctor or OB-GYN may give you a questionnaire to assess the symptoms of postpartum depression. Be sure to answer these questions honestly to ensure you receive the treatment you need, should you be suffering from postpartum depression.
Another postpartum condition you may have heard of is postpartum psychosis. While not nearly as common as postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis is equally as scary, and may go hand-in-hand with a diagnosis of postpartum depression.
Only 1 out of every 1,000 mothers who give birth will suffer from postpartum psychosis. However, previous psychotic episodes or a family history of bipolar disorder may place the mother at higher risk. Postpartum psychosis may result in symptoms such as:
- Delusions or strange beliefs
- Visual or auditory hallucinations
- Mania and/or irritability
- Paranoia and suspiciousness
- Rapid mood swings
- Difficulty communicating
While postpartum psychosis is relatively uncommon, it’s important to mention because it is associated with a five percent suicide rate and a four percent infanticide rate. Mothers suffering from postpartum psychosis experience a disconnect from reality, and therefore may take dangerous actions they would otherwise regret. Most women who suffer from postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else, but because the disorder is so unpredictable, it’s critical that women showing symptoms receive medical treatment straight away.
Postpartum in Men
Though mothers most frequently experience postpartum depression (in no small part due to the rapid hormonal changes occurring after pregnancy and delivery), it’s important to note that fathers can experience postpartum depression, too. In men, the condition is known as paternal postnatal depression, and may affect up to 1 in 4 new fathers.
Lack of sleep, changes in spousal relationships, a personal history of depression, lack of social support and more can place a man at risk of paternal postnatal depression. By far the greatest risk factor, however, is having a partner with postpartum depression.
Up to half of men whose partners have postpartum depression may also have paternal postnatal depression — which is another reason why it’s so essential for new moms to seek treatment fast for postpartum depression.
Problems caused by postpartum depression
Postpartum depression is not an uncommon experience, but it is still incredibly painful for new mothers, as well as the friends, family and loved ones who go through it with them. Speedy treatment of postpartum depression is important because it alleviates the suffering experienced by the mother and others around her. Here are some of the ways postpartum depression harms new mothers and their loved ones:
Every baby has two parents — and new mothers aren’t the only ones who are harmed by postpartum depression. When a new mom isn’t feeling up to her responsibilities, the other partner may become overwhelmed with everything they have to do. If work isn’t being divided equally between partners due to postpartum depression, arguments may ensue.
Similarly, breakdowns in communication can occur when one partner does not understand how postpartum depression is affecting the other. These breakdowns in communication can lead both partners to feel isolated and, as a result, even more depressed. As we mentioned previously, as much as 50 percent of new fathers will suffer from depression if their partner has postpartum depression — making it even more crucial for women to seek treatment for their postpartum depression.
Because the symptoms of postpartum depression include difficulty bonding with the new baby and fears that the sufferer isn’t a good mother, postpartum depression presents an intense set of parenting challenges. After all, adjusting to parenthood is hard for anyone, but it’s especially hard when you aren’t feeling the emotions you’re “supposed” to feel as a new mom.
In a culture dominated by stereotypes of motherhood in movies and on social media, new mothers are constantly surrounded by picture-perfect moms. The fear that you cannot live up to the unrealistic standards set by the media can trigger and even worsen postpartum depression, especially the thought that you are not being a good enough mother to your new baby.
After having a baby, it’s not uncommon to feel isolated from family and friends. Your new baby becomes your entire world, and soon your entire schedule is dictated by your baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns. Pile on the exhaustion of a disrupted sleep cycle thanks to baby’s late-night crying, and the changes in hormones following depression, and it’s no wonder that many new mothers don’t feel like taking part in social activities after birth.
Especially if your friends aren’t having babies yet, you may feel isolated as a new mother. Maybe you’re worried you’ll talk too much about your baby and make friends who don’t have kids (or can’t) feel guilty. Or, you feel too frumpy and sleep-deprived for a night out on the town.
Regardless, social withdrawal provides a ripe environment for postpartum depression to develop or worsen. In other words, don’t let motherhood stop you from accepting invitations to hang out with friends and family!
Most importantly, don’t feel guilty for accepting offers from friends and family to help out or visit the new baby. Whether it’s your mother-in-law’s offer to babysit or your BFF’s invitation of a playdate, these social experiences can ward off the isolated feelings that accompany postpartum depression.
Maternal and neonatal morbidity
One of the gravest consequences of postpartum depression, when gone untreated, is death.
In the United States, where we have access to healthcare that prevents the major causes of maternal death worldwide, postpartum depression kills more new mothers via suicide than postpartum hemorrhage or hypertensive disorders in pregnancy.
Infants may also suffer the consequences of a depressed mother. Postpartum depression may result in failure to thrive due to the inability to breastfeed, as well as attachment disorder or developmental delay at one year of age.
In severe cases where postpartum psychosis is involved, new mothers suffering from psychosis are responsible for 4 percent of infanticides and 5 percent of maternal suicides. It’s essential, then, to evaluate and treat psychiatric disorders rapidly in the postpartum population, especially where psychotic symptoms are involved.
Where to seek help for postpartum depression
As you can see, postpartum depression results in many unintended, often painful consequences for new mothers and their loved ones. If this article resonated with you in any way, you may be wondering if you have postpartum depression yourself. The best way to find out is to pay a visit to your primary care doctor or OB-GYN. He or she will ask you questions tailored toward your experiences to evaluate if you are truly suffering from postpartum depression, or simply a bad case of the baby blues.
Because 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression, the good news is that treatment for postpartum depression is not difficult to find. Nowadays, there are options for both inpatient and outpatient treatment with qualified medical professionals specializing in postpartum depression.
Inpatient treatment at a qualified treatment center may be an especially effective option for mothers with postpartum depression. Your time in a treatment center allows you to disconnect from the stressors of everyday life and focus only on the important task of getting better. Special programs even allow for treatment tailored to both mother and infant, meaning you do not need to give up on precious time spent with your baby while focusing on your own self-care.
If you’re struggling to get back to your normal and have a better view of your own body and life after having a baby or welcoming one into your family, consider taking some time to heal at a residential treatment facility like The Meadowglade. Contact us in order to learn more about how we can help you!