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Postpartum Depression: What is it, The Symptoms, Causes, Risk Involved, and More

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Pregnancy and motherhood are often glorified in the mainstream media, making you believe that every moment that comes with this beautiful experience is the epitome of happiness. However, motherhood is a highly subjective experience.

Some days are good, and some days aren’t. Some days call for disturbed sleep and constant bouts of breastfeeding. And top that off with the impending doom of “mom guilt,” going through motherhood is quite a difficult experience for every mother.

Although not a standard phenomenon, the overbearing experience of motherhood often results in postpartum depression (PPD) in several women. Although the instances might seem “simple” and “just a phase,” some instances of PPD can lead to many complications for the mother, the newborn, and the overall family dynamics.

This article will discuss everything about postpartum depression, its symptoms and causes, and treatment options.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression, or PPD, is a type of depression that happens after a woman gives birth. Surprisingly, PPD is not just common in mothers who have just given birth, but it is quite prevalent in surrogate mothers and adoptive parents too.

Although it is very difficult to pinpoint a specific cause or a giveaway symptom, most women experience PPD due to the barrage of hormonal, physical, and emotional changes in their minds and body.

Popular Indian actress, mother, and socialite, Sameera Reddy took to her Instagram to further share her experience with postpartum depression stating, “Even though mental illnesses can’t be seen, they exist. Mental health awareness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior such as Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PPD etc. For me Postpartum stress was hard and I did not act fast enough because I was unaware it existed. The pics I shared in this post was me at my lowest❤️. I couldn’t feel happy however hard I tried after the birth of my first child. I still reflect on these moments and it only drives me harder to reach out to anyone not feeling good about themselves. You are not alone. And being there for each other in tough times is so important.”

What are the different types of Postpartum Depression?

PPD is often used as an umbrella term for the emotional changes that a new mother experiences after giving birth. It generally involves several mood disorders and is generally categorized into three options:

Postpartum blues

Also known as baby blues, this is a mood disorder that affects up to 75% of new mothers. Most women who experience postpartum blues report crying at a stretch (often without reason or trigger behind it). These emotions are heightened around 1-4 days after the delivery and generally subside after the two-week mark.

Postpartum depression

Often considered the more serious form of mood disorder, PPD includes experiencing peaked highs and lows after the birth of a newborn. It occurs in 1 in 7 newborn parents and is a very suffocating feeling. The symptoms generally manifest as irritability, frustration, anxiety, and heavy bouts of guilt in the parent. If the symptoms are severe and don’t get better with time, the patient might need to take antidepressants or undergo psychotherapy.

Postpartum psychosis

Although quite rare, postpartum psychosis is a very severe condition. Patients who experience this mood disorder often experience signs of confusion, shame, insomnia, feeling helpless, paranoia, and even hallucinations at times. The onset of symptoms generally sets in a few days after birth and can extend up to a few weeks or months after the delivery. Women experiencing this need immediate medical attention to ensure that they don’t inflict any self-harm or harm to the newborn baby.

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

As we said, the symptoms of PPD manifest itself in different ways, especially depending on the type of PPD one is experiencing.

Let us walk you through them individually.

Type of Postpartum Depression Symptoms
Baby blues -Mood swings

-Anxiety

-Irritability

-Feeling overwhelmed

-Guilty feeling

-Sadness

-Crying

-Lacking appetite

-Insomnia

Postpartum depression -Depressed mood

-Severe mood swings

-Excessive crying

-Having a hard time bonding with the baby

-Fatigue

-Insomnia

-Irritability

-Anger

-Hopelessness

-Restlessness

-Self-harming thoughts

-Recurrent suicidal ideations

Postpartum psychosis -Confusion

-Feeling disoriented

-Hallucinations

-Delusions

-Sleep disorders

-Excess energy

-Paranoia

-Self harm

-Thoughts of harming the baby

 

Irrespective of the degree or severity of the symptoms, PPD should be treated with utmost importance. Even if you don’t want to get on antidepressants, there is always an alternative treatment option with therapy.

Is Postpartum Depression Evident in New Fathers?

When it comes to postpartum depression, everyone generally associates it with the newborn mother. However, studies indicate that PPD is prevalent in new fathers too.

The symptoms often manifest as they would in a woman after they deliver. Some of the common symptoms include feeling sad, tired, and fatigued, feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and even experiencing lacking appetite and a poor sleeping schedule.

New fathers with the previous diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or mood disorders are at heightened risk of developing PPD. Also known as paternal postpartum depression, the condition needs an equal level of prioritization as it would if it were with the mother.

As a new father, nobody wants to experience the symptoms of PPD. So, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms, we’d highly recommend that you seek medical interventions before things take a turn for the worse.

What are the Causes of Postpartum Depression?

Highlighting the causes of postpartum depression is quite difficult, especially due to the fact that there isn’t any standard explanation for the condition. Most new parents experience PPD due to sudden physical and emotional changes.

  • Women experiencing PPD often experience these feelings due to the sudden hormonal change, especially with the levels of estrogen and progesterone levels. Many women after the delivery of their baby also experience a drop in their thyroid hormone levels, which can lead to feelings of tiredness and fatigue.
  • Besides the physical changes, the delivery of a child brings a lot of emotional changes too. From the constant bouts of feeding schedules to being sleep-deprived, there are a lot of factors that can leave one feeling irritable. Many women after giving birth struggle with body image issues, which add to the symptoms.

Along with these standard causes, new parents should also be mindful of the risk factors that lead to PPD, including:

  • Previous medical history of depression
  • Medical history of bipolar disorder
  • Family history of postpartum depression
  • Stress
  • Experienced postpartum depression after last pregnancy
  • Baby is born with congenital defects
  • Relationship complications with other parent
  • Not being able to bond with the baby
  • Not producing enough breastmilk to feed the baby
  • Financial constraints
  • Unplanned pregnancy

Postpartum depression brings a lot of complications, both for the parents and the baby. When either or both the parents are battling PPD, the newborn often experiences detachment and will experience issues with their growth and development.

Especially in children, the initial impacts of PPD from the mother can later manifest as sleeping disorders or emotional problems in the baby later in life. This is one of the primary reasons why getting a formal diagnosis and treatment is crucial to avoid such complications.

How is Postpartum Depression Diagnosed?

Getting screened for postpartum depression is crucial for your and your baby’s well-being. So, if you keep experiencing recurring PPD symptoms for two weeks or more after the baby’s birth, consider consulting a healthcare provider to get the situation assessed.

When you contact a primary care physician, they will first assess the symptoms and ask about your duration of experiencing these symptoms. You’d be asked to describe your sleeping patterns, eating habits, the mood throughout the day, etc.

Your doctor will also discuss potential risk factors and triggers that could worsen your PPD. This may include:

  • Any recent traumatic or stressful events
  • Past medical history of depression
  • Having complications at home

Besides the emotional symptoms, your doctor will also run a blood test to assess the hormonal levels and the thyroid hormone levels to check if those have any contributing role to the complication or not.

How is Postpartum Depression Treated?

Following a formal diagnosis, your doctor will sit you down and discuss all the possible treatment options. Some of the most effective options include:

Medications – these involve prescriptions for antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and brexanolone. Ensure that you discuss the effects and side effects of all the medications with your doctor.

Hormone therapy – women undergo drastic hormonal changes after giving birth to their baby, often resulting in postpartum depression. Hormone therapy works as an intervention in that case and helps manage the symptoms better.

Behavioural Therapy – this is ideal for individuals who don’t want to be on any type of medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to improve the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression in parents undergoing PPD.

Self-care – lack of sleep, sudden tiredness, and physical and emotional changes in the body often result in postpartum depression. So, indulging in self-care has been found quite fruitful in helping new parents overcome symptoms of PPD. You might even consider joining a support group to help tide over these complicated symptoms.

If you are experiencing postpartum depression, know that you aren’t alone. Your feelings are valid, and there is help to support your journey through these rough and testing times.

FAQs

How long do you suffer from postpartum depression?

There is no definitive answer to this question. Everyone experiences PPD differently. Some individuals have symptoms that last for a few weeks, while others experience them for prolonged periods after their child’s birth.

Is postpartum considered a mental illness?

Generally, postpartum depression is not considered a mental disorder. However, in patients who experience the symptoms over a prolonged period or as a recurring symptom, it could be a serious condition.

How do you cope with postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is treatable with correct and timely medical interventions. There are medications, therapy, and support groups that can support the healing process.

Conclusion

Postpartum depression is an extremely serious condition most mothers (and fathers) experience after the birth of their child. Although the initial symptoms might be mistaken as tiredness or exhaustion, remember that you might have to consider seeing a doctor if the symptoms don’t get better over time. If you feel overwhelmed, kindly talk to a close friend, family member, or even a therapist. Help is out there; all you have to do is reach out for it.

Somapika Dutta (B.Sc Physiology, Honours)
Somapikar holds Bachelors Degree in Physiology from University of Culcutta. She has 6+ years of experience writing in different niches, including health, tech and lifestyle. An animal enthusiast and a raging foodie, experiencing life - one day at a time.

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