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Confronting Postpartum Depression

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In addition to the stigma of this mental illness, the image that society often portrays of an “ideal” mother can add more strain on a mother who is not doing so well and may be feeling overwhelmed.

Some women try to hide their distress and struggle alone in fear of being labelled an unfit parent or, worse, having their baby taken from them. They may minimise their symptoms or attribute them to feeling overwhelmed by the demands of a new baby or lack of sleep.

Because symptoms of this condition are broad and may vary between women, a doctor can help a woman figure out whether the symptoms she is feeling are due to postpartum depression or something else. A woman who experiences any of these symptoms should see a doctor right away.

Postpartum depression can affect any woman regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or economic status. However, some women are more likely than others to experience postpartum depression. Pay  attention to risk factors such as :-

  • Symptoms of depression during or after a previous pregnancy
  • Previous experience with depression or bipolar disorder at another time in her life
  • A family member who has been diagnosed with depression or other mental illness
  • A stressful life event during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, such as job loss, death of a loved one, domestic violence, or personal illness
  • Medical complications during childbirth, including premature delivery or having a baby with medical problems
  • Mixed feelings about the pregnancy, whether it was planned or unplanned
  • A lack of strong emotional support from her spouse, partner, family, or friends
  • Alcohol or other drug abuse problems.

As the initial stress related to labour, delivery, and bringing baby home give way to new experiences, the behaviour pattern of the baby can either make the symptoms of postpartum depression worse or better.

As the emotional toll of PPD mounts in the mother with increasing guilt, a sense of being overwhelmed by child care responsibilities, and fear of being unable to cope, she may give way to bursts of uncontrollable anger, show less affection to her baby, and be less responsive to his/her cries. These infants in turn tend to be fussier, more distant, and make fewer positive facial expressions and less noises.  Adverse effects on the child continue throughout the first year after birth, but PPD places children of all ages at risk for impaired cognitive and emotional development as well as overall mental and behavioral disorders. There are multiple implications for infants of mothers with PPD, whose developing capacities for emotional regulation and healthy attachment relationships become compromised. These infants exhibit insecure attachments to their mothers (disorganized-disoriented), more negative, sober, flat affect, protest behaviors, regulation difficulties, and gaze aversion.

They also exhibit decreased eye contact, vocalisations, activity levels, and environmental exploration. They are at risk for impaired language development and perform less well on cognitive tests at 18 months when compared to their peers of non-depressed mothers. Indeed, the effects of PPD are still evident in children at ages 4-5 years old.

Treatment and help are available for postpartum depression. A doctor can help choose the best treatment, which may include:

  • Counseling/Talk Therapy: This treatment involves talking one-on-one with a mental health professional (a counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker). Two types of counseling shown to be particularly effective in treating postpartum depression are:
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people recognize and change their negative thoughts and behaviors; and
    • Interpersonal therapy (IPT), which helps people understand and work through problematic personal relationships.
  • Medication: Antidepressant medications act on the brain chemicals that are involved in mood regulation. Many antidepressants take a few weeks to be most effective. While these medications are generally considered safe to use during breastfeeding, a woman should talk to her healthcare provider about the risks and benefits to both herself and her baby.

Without treatment, postpartum depression can last for months or years. In addition to affecting the mother’s health, it can interfere with her ability to connect with and care for her baby and may cause the baby to have problems with sleeping, eating, and behavior as he or she grows. Family members and friends may be the first to recognize symptoms of postpartum depression in a new mother. They can encourage her to talk with a health care provider, offer emotional support, and assist with daily tasks such as caring for the baby or the home.

It is important for women to understand that Postpartum Depression is a common occurrence and experiencing depressive symptoms after giving birth does not make you an “unfit” or “bad” mother.

The stigma of mental illness must be reversed so that women can be more comfortable admitting to being diagnosed with and treated for postpartum depression. Celebrities, such as Brooke Shields, Courtney Cox, Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Gwyneth Paltrow have all experienced some form of postpartum depression.

They have broken some of the initial barriers by coming forward with their personal stories and helping women know that they are not alone, nor are they anything less than loving mothers wanting desperately to provide the best care possible for their children, if they could only rise above the suffocating feelings of depression and anxiety. If postpartum depression is to be quickly treated or even prevented, women cannot be afraid to step forward themselves and admit to feeling anything less than enjoyment upon becoming new mothers.

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