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Baby blues – postpartum depression symptoms, causes and treatment

The smiling ducks, the whimsical pastel rattles, the sweet jingle of the zoo-animal mobile hanging above your new baby’s crib:new motherhood is idyllic, isn’t it? Well not for everyone. Though it would be easier if the days and weeks following your child’s birth were quiet, perfect, and filled with unparalleled joy, you may realize that isn’t the reality. You may feel differently now that your baby is no longer a vague concept, but a living, breathing – and crying – little person.

Like most major life events that come to pass, you may feel differently than you had expected when you see your newborn for the first time. Instead of feeling instantly connected and elated, you may be feeling less than positive about that little bundle in your arms. Trust us – you are not alone.

Things to consider: Mood changes can be expected with the changing levels of hormones still in your system. Plus, the reality of your exhaustion and your anxiety about how your little baby will survive and succeed in this world may also take a toll on your emotional health. All these changes lead plenty of new moms to experience mild to severe feelings of depression or anxiety during different times.

Right after the baby is born, you may swing wildly between shouting for joy and wanting to cry. You may have difficultly sleeping, feel slightly depressed, or lose your appetite. These symptoms are known as baby blues, and are common among new moms, with about 70% experiencing feelings of mild depression. Don’t worry about how you’re expected to feel or that something is wrong with you, as each childbirth experience is different for everyone. You may start experiencing these symptoms about three or four days after delivery, and typically they go away after a week.

Some new mothers experience feelings of anxiety and depression on a more severe level or for an extended period of time, and this is known as postpartum depression. This is a serious condition that affects about 13% of women after their pregnancies and can be harmful for both mom and baby if left untreated. Some signs of postpartum depression include:

  • Crying or feeling like you’re going to cry frequently
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in life
  • Loss of appetite
  • Less energy and motivation to do things
  • Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Thoughts of suicide or worthlessness
  • Lack of interest in your baby

If these sound familiar, don’t ignore it. Postpartum depression isn’t a condition you can just “shake off” and expect to go away. Don’t feel like you’re failing as a mother or feel embarrassed. Be upfront about your feelings to a doctor or psychologist, who can help get you the treatment that you need.

Causes of postpartum depression

There is no exact time in which symptoms can begin. They can occur during pregnancy, right after delivery, or a few weeks or months after the birth. Many cases begin within the first four weeks after pregnancy.

Certain factors can increase your risk for postpartum depression, such as:

  • Age younger than 20 years
  • Mood or anxiety disorder prior to the pregnancy, including an earlier cases of postpartum depression
  • A history of depression or anxiety in your immediate family
  • A lack of support from your partner or family
  • Stressful life events during the pregnancy, such as the death or illness of a loved one, a difficult or emergency delivery, or premature delivery
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Financial stress or worry
  • Having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

In rare cases, new mothers can experience postpartum psychosis, in which they lose a grasp on reality and experience sudden psychotic symptoms following the delivery. Symptoms include extreme mood swings between intense depression and exaggerated joy, insomnia, out-of-character thoughts, and inappropriate reactions to the baby. This occurs in about one or two women out of every thousand, and requires immediate medical attention for the safety of the mother and the baby.

Finding support

It’s helpful to realize that most of the women who experience postpartum depression make a full recovery – look at the example of Brooke Shields, who stirred controversy by going public with her fight against the condition.

Discuss your options with your doctor. Antidepressant medication and professional therapies have both proven to be successful in lessening or eliminating symptoms. Make sure you let your doctor know if you’re breastfeeding to ensure the safety of you and your child. Ask if there are local mothers’ groups or postpartum depression groups that can help you work out your issues.

If you can, it may help to confide in a close friend or family member – knowing that you’re not alone in your burden can alleviate some of the anxiety associated with the condition. Though you may want to show that you’re strong and can survive anything, let others help where they can by spending time with you and your baby or helping out with cooking or housework.

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