Postpartum mood disorders, which includes postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis, affects 7.5% of women in Canada after they have given birth. Although this number may not seem very high, these are only the cases that were reported to a physician. Imagine what the percentage might be if every woman that experienced any symptom of a postpartum mood disorder spoke up about it. 15%? 20%? 50%?
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is in fact a mental illness that affects the mood of either parent – mother or father. It can influence what that person thinks about themselves, how they interact with others, and how they relate to the world around them. This includes feelings such as extreme sadness, worthlessness, anger, guilt, and hopelessness. Postpartum depression can take the joy out of things that the parent used to enjoy, make daily tasks difficult to complete, and make them withdraw from friends and family. It can make the new parent not enjoy their time with their new baby, and even have random thoughts about wanting to injure the baby.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
It is difficult to narrow down one cause of postpartum depression, as it is often a combination of factors. These causes can influence a new parent’s ability to cope with having a new baby, and can include the parent’s predisposition to handling stress and anxiety; sleep deprivation; having little to no support once the baby arrives; and family history. For women, changes in hormone levels is a big factor that can cause postpartum depression – within the hours following childbirth, levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease drastically and can cause mood swings, similar to the slight drops a woman experiences before her menstrual cycle begins. Other emotional factors, such as the recent loss of a loved one, if the baby was unplanned or even unwanted, or if the baby is sick and needs to stay in the hospital after the mother has been discharged are all things that can affect a new parent’s self esteem and their ability to deal with stress.
Is “Baby Blues” the same thing?
Short answer, no. There is a certain amount of fatigue, worry, and stress that is to be expected when you become a new parent, especially within the first few days for up to a week of being home with baby. This time period is considered to be the “Baby Blues”, where you have just gone through a huge life change, and the realization that your daily routine pre-baby is going to be vastly different hits hard. However, this is perfectly normal, and is considered temporary. Where postpartum depression comes in is when your mood prevents you from completing your daily tasks, you begin to withdraw from friends and family, etc.
How can it be treated?
It is very important for the person suffering with any of the above described symptoms to speak to their physician. From there, the physician will recommend a treatment plan. The two main courses of treatment include counselling/talk therapy and/or medication. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may recommend you simply speak to a counsellor about how you feel you are adjusting to life with a newborn. Your doctor may also recommend a course of medication that may help ease some of the symptoms.
What else can I do? How can I help a loved one?
Hire a postpartum doula!! Our job as postpartum doulas is to be with you during any of your emotions. It is to be present physically, and to listen perceptively. We are not going to pry, and often times we can be the only one person in your life that does not have an agenda. We have no “shoulds” in our vocabulary – “You should do this”, “You should do that”. We are there for you, to help you navigate the often overwhelming waters of new parenthood.