Immediately following birth, many new mothers feel anxious about taking care of a newborn, and this anxiety may come with feelings of sadness, crying spells, sleep problems, loss of appetite, and more. But if symptoms persist beyond 3 to 5 days after delivery, you may be experiencing what is known as postpartum depression.
Approximately 1 in every 9 women who give birth experience postpartum depression, a serious condition that can cause feelings of hopelessness, a sense of being overwhelmed, and even a desire to hurt yourself or your child. Some women don’t recognize the severity of their situation because they think they are only experiencing what all mothers feel. Even those who recognize they are suffering are sometimes reluctant to admit their feelings because they feel ashamed or embarrassed about being depressed when they are expected to be happy. Some even translate their guilt and anxiety into fears that they are bad mothers for the things they are feeling.
But there’s no reason to be ashamed. Postpartum depression is a medical condition that can be treated once the mother recognizes the symptoms and seeks help. Besides longer term experience of most common symptoms after childbirth, other symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Not feeling connected to or showing any interest in the baby
- Sleeping to much or too little
- Trouble making decisions or maintaining focus
- Losing interest in the things you enjoy
- Feeling restless or moody
- A lack of energy or motivation
- Withdrawing from those you love
- Overeating or not eating enough
These symptoms can be exacerbated by the bodies need to recover after birth, by the broken sleep patterns new mothers experience, by anxieties about being a new mother, and by unrealistic expectations of being a “perfect” mom.
It is thought that hormonal changes are the cause of postpartum depression. Levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their highest when women are pregnant, but within 24 hours of giving birth they plummet back to normal levels. Researchers believe this sudden shift in hormone levels can trigger postpartum depression. Another potential cause could be thyroid hormones, which regulate our bodies ability to store food energy. After giving birth, a woman’s thyroid hormone levels can drop and may act as a trigger to depression.
Treatments for postpartum depression vary based on the severity of the case, with the most common treatments being a combination of therapy and antidepressants. The FDA has approved a treatment called Brexanolone which is administered by IV at a doctor’s office or clinic over the course of 60 hours. Because of the risk of side effects, the treatment must be given by a doctor or nurse so that you can be monitored. Furthermore, Brexanolone may not be safe for women who are breastfeeding. For the most severe cases, as in the rare condition known as postpartum psychosis, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be an effective treatment.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from postpartum depression, it’s important to contact a doctor as soon as possible. If you are not sure where to turn for help, you can contact a helpline such as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline.
Ivan Young is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with Stethoscope.com, the leading stethoscope distributor.
In Partnership with Bailey Fett Photography