Post natal depression, also known as postpartum depression, is a moderate to severe form of depression which occurs in women following childbirth. This condition can come on soon after delivery, or up to a year later. Most commonly, post natal depression occurs in the three months following delivery.
Post natal depression can be very serious. It can lead to very serious consequences for the mother, the new baby, and other family members if left untreated.
The exact cause of post natal depression is unknown. It is believed that the changes in hormone levels following pregnancy can greatly effect a woman’s mood. There are also non-hormonal factors which can contribute to this condition.
- Body changes: The changes in a woman’s body due to the pregnancy and delivery can lead to depression. Some women are under the impression that after the baby comes, their body will go back to the way it looked before pregnancy. When they realize that this is not true, depression can set it.
- Lifestyle changes: After a woman has a baby, her social relationships can change. When she was once free to meet friends for lunch, go out for an evening cocktail, or take a last minute vacation with friends, after the baby comes, she no longer has those freedoms. This drastic change can lead to depression.
- No free time: Most women had all the time in the world for themselves, do do things that they enjoyed. After the baby is born, a new mother will realize that her needs are no longer a priority, causing depression.
- Lack of sleep: Babies require a great deal of work, and are a twenty four hour, seven day a week responsibility. After a woman has a baby, she can no longer get the eight to ten hours of sleep that she is used to. Babies wake up every three hours to eat, not leaving new moms a whole lot of time for sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to depression.
- Worries: Many new mothers worry whether or not they will be good at being a mother. In some cases, these worries can become so overwhelming, that depression sets in.
Post Natal Depression Risk Factors
There are certain situations and conditions which can make one woman more likely to develop post natal depression than others.
- Age: Women who have babies under the age of 20 are more likely to develop post natal depression than those who are older.
- Abuse: Women who are abusing alcohol, illegal substance, or smoke cigarettes are at high risk of developing post natal depression.
- Unplanned pregnancy: When a woman had an unplanned pregnancy, or had mixed feeling about the pregnancy, are likely to develop post natal depression after the baby is born.
- Pre-existing conditions: When a woman suffered from depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar depression before the pregnancy, she is very likely to develop post natal depression.
- Stressful events: There are many stressful events either during pregnancy or during the delivery which can contribute to post natal depression. Personal illness, the illness or death of a loved one, the mother and father separating, a difficult or emergency delivery, premature delivery, illness or birth defects in the baby can all contribute to post natal depression.
- Familial history: When a new mother has an immediate family member who suffers from depression or anxiety, she is more likely to become depressed after giving birth.
- Financial problems: When a new mother is having financial problems and housing problems, it can lead to depression.
- Lack of support: A new baby can be very time consuming. When a new mom does not have a good support system from friends and family, it can lead to post natal depression. This is especially true when she is not getting support from her partner or spouse.
Symptoms of Post Natal Depression
After a woman has a baby, it can be a very emotional time. She may find that she is tearful, restless, and irritable in the week following childbirth. This is called the baby blues. In many cases, the symptoms of the baby blues go away in a week or two without any necessary treatment.
If after a few months the baby blues have not gone away, and other symptoms develop, the new mom likely has post natal depression. Along with the sad, depressed mood caused by the baby blues, the woman can experience:
- Severe agitation or irritability
- Changes in appetite, either a gain or loss
- Feelings or worthlessness
- Feelings of guilt
- Feeling unconnected to everyone around
- Feeling withdrawn
- Lack of pleasure and interest in almost everything
- Lack of concentration
- No energy
- Problems functioning at home or work
- Severe anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
There are also certain ways a new mother with post natal depression will behave in relation to her baby.
- Unable to take care of the baby
- Afraid to be alone with the baby
- Worry too much about the baby, where it becomes unhealthy
- Little or no interest in the baby
- Negative thoughts about the baby, and feelings of wanting to harm the baby.
Diagnosing Post Natal Depression
It is very difficult for a doctor to diagnose post natal depression. Often times, a new mom will not want others to know what she is going through. Admitting to the symptoms that she is experiencing will only lead to her feelings of guilt. She will feel as though she is letting her baby and her family down. Many women who are suffering from post natal depression will suffer in silence.
When a woman does admit that there may be a problem, a doctor will listen to her symptoms. If she mentions one or more of the above symptoms, the doctor will be able to diagnose her with post natal depression.
In some cases, women with post natal depression will have blood work done to see if there is a medial problem which is causing the depression.
Treatment for Post Natal Depression
When a woman suspects that she has post natal depression, it is important that she contact her doctor immediately. If the mother is not breast feeding, a mild antidepressant would be prescribed. If a new mother with post natal depression is breastfeeding, her doctor would likely send her to a mental health specialist or therapy.
There are also things that a new mother can do in order to help herself with this condition.
- Ask for help: A woman can ask her family members, friends, and partner or spouse for help caring for the baby.
- Talk: It is important for a woman to talk about her feeling with her partner, family, and friends.
- Don’t make major changes: It is not a good idea to make major life changes during pregnancy or right after giving birth. It can add to the pressure of being a new mother, leading to depression.
- Don’t expect perfection: Nobody is perfect, and no new mother is perfect. It is important for new mothers to understand that they are not a super woman.
- Make time for herself: It is important for new mothers to make time for herself. Even if it is a half hour to watch television, take a bath, or read a book. The free time helps.
- Sleep: In order to treat post natal depression, a woman needs to get sleep. It is a good idea for new moms to sleep when the baby is sleeping.
- Join a support group: Taking to other mothers who understand can be very helpful for mothers with post natal depression. Realizing that she is not alone might make help with the feelings of guilt and other symptoms.
Complications of Post Natal Depression
If post natal depression goes untreated, it can cause very serious complications. Untreated post natal depression can last for several months and even years. Once mothers with this condition have been suffering for a long time, a very severe depression can set in.
When a new mother has severe depression due to post natal depression, she is likely to try to harm herself. In more severe cases, the mother can attempt to hurt her baby. There have been many cases in the news where new mothers with post natal depression have injured or killed their baby due to the depression.
Post natal depression is a very serious condition which many women suffer from following giving birth. It is important to understand the signs so that treatment can begin as soon as possible, before something serious happens.