Childbirth is usually a joyous time for a new mother, but childbirth is also a time for incredible and drastic changes to a woman’s body and mind. Not all of these changes are welcome ones, and that sometimes manifests in a form of depression known as postpartum depression.
How Does Postpartum Depression Work?
While the overall symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to those of standard depression – constant fatigue, mood swings, crying spells, lack of interest in hobbies and activities, and feelings of worthlessness and guilt – this condition carries some unique signs.
Mothers with postpartum depression can have:
- Difficulty bonding with their newborn baby
- Thoughts of harming themselves or their newborn
- Feelings of being an inadequate parent
If these symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, the mother should be evaluated for postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression can be caused by the sudden decrease of hormones (in particular, estrogen and progesterone) the body produces after delivery. A mother can feel tired, fatigued, and depressed when this happens. Furthermore, changes in metabolism and blood pressure can result in mood swings and anxiety – anxiety about not being able to properly care for the baby, or feeling overwhelmed by the presence of the newborn. The mother may feel that she is no longer beautiful or sexually attractive to her spouse. The transition from expectant mother to actual mother may be disorienting, causing the mother to reject spending time with her baby.
Other causes of postpartum depression might be:
- A family history of depression is present.
- The mother has experienced postpartum depression before.
- The pregnancy was stressful.
- There are concerns about financially supporting the new family.
- There are issues of spousal or familial support.
- The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted.
Postpartum depression affects about one in 10 women. It usually begins around two weeks after childbirth, but it can develop as late as three to six months after childbirth. PsychCentral reports that women can experience postpartum depression as late as 12 months after giving birth. It can also develop in women who have had miscarriages and stillborn deliveries.
How Is Postpartum Depression Treated?
Treatment for postpartum depression has similarities to treatments for other forms of depression, but also a few unique approaches. According to WebMD, around 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with postpartum depression can be successfully treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy.
The patient’s status as a new mother will strongly influence the choice and dosage of medication. For example, lithium is commonly prescribed in cases of depression, but it will likely not be prescribed to a mother because of concerns that it will be secreted in breast milk and passed on to the newborn.
For this reason, a doctor may choose to go with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Known for their high levels of effectiveness and minimal side effects, they work by inducing a rebalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters, prolonging positive moods and feelings.
A significant component of the treatment for postpartum depression is therapy. A doctor can work with a patient to help her understand the thoughts and feelings of postpartum depression, and then apply those understandings to new and healthier ways of thinking and acting. This method of therapy is known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.
Further therapeutic exercises might involve the spouse/partner and family members as part of treatment, to educate them as to what postpartum depression entails for the mother, and how they can respond to her needs and help her manage her feelings.
It may even be possible to prevent postpartum depression from developing. There is evidence that offering mothers psychological support after their childbirth “reduce[d] the risk of becoming deeply depressed.”
Childbirth is a happy occasion, but even when things get complicated, there is always an answer. Black Bear Lodge knows that not everything always goes according to plan, and that’s why we’re here: to answer your questions about postpartum depression and to put you in contact with the people who know how to help you. Please call us at 706-914-2327 today to find out how you can get the information and assistance you need.