How to cope with postpartum depression
If you’ve just had a baby and are feeling sad, anxious or upset despite the happy occasion, don’t worry. That’s completely normal. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), concerns about whether you can handle being a mother usually fade a week or two after childbirth.
Occasionally, new moms may continue to feel depressed or despairing in the weeks after birth, and in some instances, this can prevent management of regular daily tasks and baby care. Left untreated, this postpartum depression can persist and cause damage to mom, baby and the family. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to address it.
What causes postpartum depression?
According to the ACOG, most physicians believe the sudden drop in hormone levels after birth is similar to the change that causes mood swings during your menstrual period. In combination with other lifestyle and emotional factors, new mothers can become particularly susceptible to feelings of depression. The risk may be elevated if a woman has a history of depression or experiences additional stress after birth, including lack of support, illness, relocation, a job loss or death of a loved one.
When to call the doctor about your postpartum depression
If you think you’re depressed after having a baby — or if your partner or family members express concern for your mental health — the United States Department of Health advised that you call your doctor right away instead of waiting for your six-week postpartum checkup. This is especially important if you have more severe symptoms, such as lack of motivation to care for yourself or your baby, feelings of worthlessness and guilt or reduced interest in activities you previously enjoyed.
Other important symptoms to keep an eye on include headaches and other pains that won’t subside, hiding your true feelings from friends and family (including your spouse) or having thoughts about harming yourself or your baby. Department of Health researchers noted that a mother’s severe, untreated depression can cause a baby to have developmental delays as well as bonding and behavior problems.
Treatment for postpartum depression
If you feel your depression is not lifting or is getting worse, your doctor can prescribe antidepressants — a type of medication that works to balance the brain chemicals controlling your moods. Private talk therapy or group therapy sessions with women who are experiencing the same feelings as you can be very effective when paired with medication.
Finding emotional support is crucial
Some women don’t want to tell anyone about their intense feelings, but reaching out to loved ones, particularly to a spouse, can be one of the best ways to begin recovery. Depression can be very hard for a spouse, especially if they have taken on extra household and childcare responsibilities. Open up to your partner and tell them what you need, whether you think it’s therapy, medication for depression, a support group, extra help or simply some time alone.
Depression can affect any woman during (or after) pregnancy, and it’s no indication of your ability to be a good mother. If you think you might be experiencing postpartum depression, it’s important to seek help — both for your baby’s health and for your own.
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