Postpartum Depression -  What is it, Symptoms, Cause & Treatment

Postpartum Depression - What is it, Symptoms, Cause & Treatment

Pratichi’s husband and in-laws couldn’t understand when after giving birth to their second child, a daughter, she appeared to be lethargic, dull and almost indifferent to the child. She would sit staring dully, with what seemed to be almost resentment at the child. Her mother-in-law had to coax her into nursing the child. They wondered if she was disappointed at having a girl. They already had a son and the family had been looking forward to a daughter this time. Incidentally, the first pregnancy had passed off without any hiccups.

All throughout her second pregnancy, Pratichi had been excited and enthusiastic. This sudden change in behaviour puzzled and alarmed the family. After about a couple of weeks of this, Pratichi’s husband decided to seek advice and help. He consulted with a gynaecologist, an elderly man who had been practising for decades. It took him only minutes to diagnose Pratichi’s condition as Postpartum Depression.

Postpartum depression, a condition that nobody talks about or acknowledges, is more common than we think and is afflicting about one in seven mothers across the world. It is as difficult to diagnose and identify as any other form of depression, but it is specially related to having a baby, though it may have its roots elsewhere.

What is postpartum depression?

As the name indicates, postpartum depression refers to the clinical depression that some women go through after childbirth. Most women go through some form of depression after having a baby (yeah, it's true), but this is a temporary feeling and soon goes away. Postpartum depression, however, is more insidious and tends to stick around for a while.

It can start immediately during the first few weeks of birth or can strike one anytime in the first year of having a child.

What are the symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

The external symptoms might manifest as in the cases of most depressions – lethargy, disinterest in anything going on around the person, mood swings, avoiding family members, and so on.

For a woman who is undergoing postpartum, the feelings can be an inability to cope, guilt, hopelessness, feeling overwhelmed, panic and anxiety attacks, and other similar emotional responses. They may feel an inability to bond with their babies, and this induces the feelings of guilt.

In extreme cases, mothers of new-born babies may be unable to sleep, may have paranoid thoughts, have feelings of persecution, and may be ultimately driven to even harm themselves or the baby. They may transfer their inadequacy to the baby towards whom they may feel hostile.

What could be causing Postpartum Depression?  

Difficult as it may be to believe, not all women are thrilled at the prospect of having a baby. Society exerts considerable pressure on women to give birth and be mothers. While there is a certain expectation associated with giving birth, there is also apprehension that they may be unable to take care of their baby. The enormous sense of responsibility towards another life can overwhelm and swamp them.

Sometimes, women are not prepared emotionally to have babies. When the baby comes along, the late night feeds, the constant feeling of exhaustion, the incessant demands of being a mother, can leave a woman feeling unable to cope. Surprisingly, even those who have already experienced childbirth once and gone through it successfully can suffer with postpartum depression (PPD) after a second pregnancy.

Many women have demanding jobs and careers and caring for a baby may skew their priorities. It is quite possible they may feel that the baby is interfering with their career growth, or contrarily, feel that their job is not giving them adequate time to care of the baby. Either way, it takes a toll on women’s health and this can be a further spur to depression. While maternity benefits such as six months paid leave, paternity leaves etc are smoothing the way and making the lives of new mothers easier, it is no proof against the sudden change in the lives of women when babies make their appearance.

The fluctuating hormones also have a lot to do with PPD, as also is lack of emotional and physical support from family members. Women who become easily stressed out or have suffered from depression before, are more likely to get hit by PPD.

Treatment for Postpartum Depression

If the feelings of being ‘blue’ persist for more than a week after having the baby, one should seek medical and expert help. The doctor may prescribe antidepressants to counter the effects of PPD. In addition, one needs to make conscious and consistent efforts to battle depression.

Take adequate exercise. Talk to your family members, and take their help in caring for the baby. Don’t try to multitask. Take advantage of your organisation's maternity leave policy and deal with the baby first, before you go back to your job. Schedule a routine so that you get adequate rest. Ensure that you are eating your meals on time.

PPD, when diagnosed and identified on time, is treatable. 

Janaki Krishnan (Author)

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