Symptoms of PPD include tiredness, irritability, mood swings, anxiety and trouble thinking. Many of us believe, wrongly, that these symptoms are a normal part of motherhood. Untreated PPD affects the whole family and can cause serious long-term problems. Knowing the warning signs and risk factors, and getting help early, can make all the difference. With the help of family, friends and health professionals, mothers can recover.
Baby blues affect up to 70 per cent of new mothers, occurring within ten days after giving birth. Symptoms include anxiety, mood swings, crying and trouble sleeping. Usually these symptoms pass quickly. If they continue, they may indicate a mood problem.
PPD symptoms are the same as depression that occurs at any other time. Women may feel depressed, have less energy and no interest in usual activities. They may experience changes in sleep patterns and weight, and have trouble thinking and making decisions. Some women feel guilty or have thoughts of suicide.
Postpartum psychosis is the rarest and most serious mood problem. Out of 1,000 babies born, one or two mothers will experience this. Women who see, hear and believe things that are not real need to be seen in the emergency department.
Many risk factors exist for PPD. A woman who has a history of depression or becomes depressed during pregnancy is at higher risk. Having family members who suffer from depression is an additional risk.
Learning how to parent is stressful. A woman needs help from her partner, friends and family during this time. However, her family may live far away. She may not have friends to depend upon, and her partner may not know how to help. Women with little or no help and unhappy personal relationships are more at risk.
Research has found a woman with low income or without a partner is more likely to experience PPD. Having an unplanned pregnancy or feeling badly about herself also increases the chances.
Depression can keep a mother from feeling close to her child. The child seems to sense this and stops trying to get the mother’s attention. The mother may then feel rejected by her child, which deepens her depression.
If the relationship with the other parent is strained, women worry about problems in the marriage. They may not feel close to their partner, perhaps even unloved. These feelings can make symptoms of depression worse. Sometimes there is physical or verbal abuse. Some couples even separate.
PPD can seriously affect the entire family. Mothers with PPD often spend less time playing and talking with their children. Children learn how to get along with others from spending time with their mothers. Research has shown that children of depressed mothers do not play or develop language as well. They may have more temper tantrums, and have trouble sharing with other children. Their parents may describe them as difficult or shy. Depression is more common in children who have depressed mothers.
Partners of depressed women often feel helpless. They may feel confused, hopeless, afraid, stressed, tired and worried.
It can be hard to admit that they cannot fix the problem and ask for help. Many feel that both physically and emotionally they have lost their relationship as a couple. They can feel rejected by their partner’s lack of interest in them. Research shows that 25 to 50 per cent of men whose partners have PPD will suffer from depression themselves. Depression in both parents affects children even more severely.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to a health care professional:
A more serious condition, postpartum psychosis, can occur soon after birth, but may happen up to a year afterwards. It involves a loss of touch with reality. Affected women see, hear and believe in things that aren’t real. This is a dangerous condition requiring immediate emergency care.
Help is available for PPD. What’s more, getting professional help is important. Community health nurses routinely ask new mothers about their mental health. A quick screening test can be done to see if mothers have symptoms of depression.
Many mothers find support in attending a new mom’s group at a community health centre. A mental health nurse can offer advice and referral for couple’s counselling. Family doctors and pregnancy care providers can also provide guidance.
Antidepressant medications are available if necessary. If your family doctor or psychiatrist does advise them, many are safe to use while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding may be more difficult for a woman with PPD, but is still encouraged. Some mothers find behaviour therapy a useful tool.
Friends and family can play an important role in recovery from PPD. Providing meals and care for older children will be appreciated and lower stress. Women with PPD need rest, a healthy diet, and emotional support.
Continuing symptoms of depression after childbirth are not normal. Untreated postpartum depression can seriously affect the entire family. Mothers should not feel guilty about experiencing what is a serious medical condition. By getting help and support, mothers can beat depression and experience the happiness they deserve.