Postpartum Depression: A Serious Issue for New Moms
By Philip L. Levin, MD
What could make a woman happier than giving birth to her beautiful baby, the cuddly little nursing cherub, rewarding her with smiles and coos for returned love? Yet, over two thirds of new mothers feel down with the “baby blues.” Up to one in five develop sadness bad enough to qualify for the diagnosis of postpartum depression.
Depression affects mothers of all income groups, with increased risk in women with low income, younger age, lower education levels, single marital status, non-white race/ethnicity, and lack of social support. Conditions of the child can contribute to the stresses causing depression, including issues such as pre-term birth and low birth weight.
It’s a serious issue. Depressed mothers can’t devote as much love to the child, resulting in newborn irritability, delays in development, sleep problems, and sometimes even child abuse.
In some cases, the condition can become so severe as to develop into what’s called “postpartum psychosis,” a state of mental instability with a ten-percent incidence of mother or infant death.
All pregnant women and their families should be on the lookout for early signs of depression, since in many cases the symptoms begin before delivery, though the worst may only show up several months after. Common depressive symptoms include lack of interest in normal activities; crying spells; sleep disorders; and loss of appetite. However, symptoms vary for each individual. Mood swings, inability to bond with the baby, and feelings of not being “good enough” are common.
It’s not clear what causes postpartum depression. Some physicians suggest the change in hormones associated with pregnancy are a big factor. Other factors, including loss of independence, lack of sleep, and physical body changes no doubt also add to things. A family with two incomes for two people suddenly finding themselves with one income and three mouths to feed may suffer from financial stresses.
Most of the time, postpartum depression clears on its own within six months. Early referral to professional help makes a big difference, with an over 80-percent successful treatment rate for depression. Psychotherapy and medications make a big difference. Remember, fathers can get postpartum depression as well.
While all families have to adjust to new conditions when a baby enters the household, be aware that sometimes the mother will develop the more serious condition of postpartum depression. If you or your loved one has worrisome signs, contact a professional counselor right away.
Postpartum Medical Conditions:
Postpartum Blues: Irritability, insomnia, and crying spells.
Postpartum Anxieties: Constant worry about the baby.
Postpartum Stress Disorder: Associated with unusual conditions, such as a pre-term baby, a difficult delivery, an unexpected c-section, or a newborn with special needs.
Postpartum Depression: Inability to do needed tasks. Excessive crying, loss of appetite, sleep disorder.
Postpartum Psychosis: Hallucinations and delusions about the baby. This is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY!
Philip L. Levin, M.D. is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.