Understanding and Managing Postpartum Depression
While most women who have recently delivered a baby have mood changes, up to 19% of women may experience something called postpartum depression after birth. Although mood swings and similar issues called the “baby blues” can typically be managed at home without special treatments, women who are concerned that they have postpartum depression should see a medical professional. This problem is nothing to feel shame over; rather it is a part of childbirth for numerous women.
After birth, women should beware of symptoms that may signal the onset of postpartum depression. Many symptoms mimic typical depression, such as those listed below.
- Unexplainable crying
- Less interest than usual in previously enjoyable activities
- Appetite changes, such as a poor appetite
- Thoughts of hurting oneself
- Poor concentration and decision making
However, other symptoms are unique to postpartum depression.
- Extreme anger or irritability
- Extreme fatigue due to difficulty sleeping when the baby sleeps
- Inability to bond with the new baby
- Difficulty feeling close to loved ones
- Thoughts of harming the baby
Women may experience postpartum depression for a variety of physical or emotional reasons. Of course, women who already struggled with depression before becoming pregnant are predisposed to postpartum depression. One major cause of postpartum depression is hormones. Estrogen and progesterone are quite high during pregnancy but drop quickly after childbirth, leading to these feelings of sadness and inadequacy. In addition, thyroid gland hormones change after childbirth, leading to changes in metabolism, blood pressure, mood and more Of course, women with a new baby do not typically receive adequate sleep and may have limited time to care for themselves, which may also lead to mood changes.
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that should be addressed with a healthcare professional. Today’s treatments often start with individual or family counseling, which may help combat depression without the use of medications. However, if needed, antidepressant medications can be used; some are even safe to use while breastfeeding. In addition, replacing low hormones, such as estrogen, often through an oral medication, is another useful option.
Not only does postpartum depression make women feel inadequate, anxious and sad, but also it can increase the stress on loved ones, such as spouses and children. This problem is highly treatable by either therapy or medications. The sooner a woman seeks out help, the sooner she can feel like herself again and enjoy bonding with her new baby.