After the birth of a child, mothers often experience mood swings and feelings of sadness, popularly called the "baby blues." These feelings are the natural result of a woman's body resetting her hormone levels after birth. In most cases these "baby blues" dissipate after a few weeks.
However, some mothers experience severe depression that can take a significant toll on their mental health. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a clinical depressive state that affects approximately one in 10 women after childbirth. Unlike the baby blues, PPD is a serious condition that can last for a year or longer. Symptoms can include dramatic swings in mood; thinking disorders; and loss of sleep, appetite and interest in activities. The mother may appear confused, fatigued, experience uncontrollable bouts of crying or major disruptions in her sleep cycle. In the most severe cases, the mother's thinking can be disrupted to the point of psychosis. Severe or ongoing PPD hinders the mother's ability to care and attach to her child during this critical early developmental phase of the infant.
A woman suffering from PPD often feels embarrassment and shame along with feelings of being isolated and alone. But she is, in fact, not alone. PPD is a recognized disorder among physicians and mental health professionals. More importantly, PPD is treatable.
If a new mother sinks into a prolonged depressive state, it is important for her, with the help of her loved ones, to seek help from a physician. Remember, a mother's mental well-being is critical for the development of her child. A treatment plan can involve both physical and mental health professionals, and include:
Women diagnosed with PPD should take care to follow their treatment plan closely and to completion even if they begin to feel better. PPD is more likely to recur in women if treatment is discontinued early. In general, it is recommended to take medication for a minimum of 9 months. There are other helpful ways to combat "baby blues" and PPD in new mothers:
Get out of the house. Loneliness can feed a depressive state. Get out into the sunshine and around other people.
Know your limits. A newborn is a huge responsibility, and some mothers try to take on all the responsibility. Do what you can, and call on others to help.
Don't forget to rest when you can. Rest and sleep keeps exhaustion and fatigue from overwhelming a new mother.
A new baby's arrival is NOT the time to move houses, find a new job, or engage in other life-altering, stressful activity. New mothers have enough on their plate without adding further stress.
Gather up a support group of friends and family to combat your depression and help with your new baby. You are not alone. If your doctor recommends joining a professional support group for women with depression, do so.
Edited by Carolyn Quist, DO