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Understanding Postpartum Depression

mother holding baby newborn postpartum depression

Even under the most ideal of circumstances, giving birth drastically changes a person’s life. Sustaining the miracle of life requires a huge change in hormonal composition within the body, and physically bringing the child forth via cesarean or vaginal birth is incredibly intense and painful, requiring time to heal after the family is discharged home. The physical changes alone are a lot to process, without even considering all of the emotional, social, and financial concerns that could arise.

Baby Blues

Given everything that occurs immediately before and after a new child is welcomed into the world, it is not surprising that a person who gives birth could experience some symptoms of distress. “Baby blues,” as these symptoms are collectively called, generally start within the first couple of days after a baby is born and end within a couple of weeks:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Insomnia
  • Crying
  • Inability to focus
  • Change in appetite

More Than Baby Blues

As long as baby blues are not especially intense and don’t last more than a couple of weeks, they aren’t necessarily cause for alarm, though they do warrant compassion and understanding for the recovering life-giver. Baby blues that don’t go away or are more intense might be signs of postpartum depression (PPD). Signs of PPD include:

  • Visible Signs
    • Symptoms so intense that they interfere with caring for the baby
    • Depressed mood or immense mood swings
    • Withdrawal from other loved ones
    • Crying excessively
    • Huge changes in appetite and sleep
    • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Less Visible Signs
    • Impaired ability to bond with the baby
    • Overwhelming fatigue or low energy
    • Inability to enjoy things that are normally pleasurable
    • Fear of being a bad parent
    • Feelings of hopelessness, shame, worthlessness, guilt, or inadequacy
    • Thoughts of harming the baby or oneself

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

Anyone who gives birth can experience PPD, but some individuals are at heightened risk for developing it. This would include anyone:

  • With a personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder
  • Who lacks a strong support system
  • Who experienced PPD during a prior pregnancy
  • Who is experiencing money or relationship troubles
  • Under the age of 20
  • With substance abuse concerns
  • Whose pregnancy or delivery had challenges:
    • Baby born with special needs
    • Difficulty breastfeeding
    • An unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
    • Complications during delivery
    • Birthing multiples

The Other Parent

While postpartum depression generally impacts the parent who gave birth, it is also possible for a parent who didn’t give birth to have PPD.

Postpartum Psychosis

A rare condition that can also impact a person who has recently given birth is postpartum psychosis. While it only affects around one to two out of every 1,000 births, postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment and may require inpatient treatment. People with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder are at heightened risk for developing postpartum psychosis after giving birth. Symptoms include:

  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Being confused most of the time
  • Cycling through several moods within a few minutes
  • Trying to harm themselves or the baby
  • Thinking other people are trying to hurt them
  • Uncharacteristically reckless behavior

Stigma as a Barrier to Getting Help

The Office for Women’s Health reports that although one in nine people who give birth experiences PPD, there is still a stigma attached to the condition. Society can send the message that having a baby should bring only joy and that any difficult feelings are the results of character defects.

Treatment for Postpartum Depression

PPD is generally treated with a combination of medication (usually antianxiety or antidepressant medications) and therapy. Support groups may also be helpful. Doctors recommend seeking professional help if:

  • Symptoms persist more than a couple of weeks
  • It is not possible to function normally
  • Everyday situations are beyond the person’s ability to handle
  • There are any thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby
  • Panic, anxiety and fear are present for most of the day

Postpartum Emergencies

If you aren’t able to reach your doctor and need urgent support with PPD, there are other ways to get help:

  • Call the hotline specifically for parents experiencing PPD: 800-773-6667
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988
  • Call a family member or friend to take the baby
  • Call the emergency number for your primary care doctor or therapist
  • Go to the emergency room

How to Support a Parent Through Postpartum Depression

If you are concerned that someone you know is experiencing PPD, the best ways to help them are to:

  • Lend emotional support – let them talk about what they are experiencing without judging them.
  • Give them a break – offer to watch the baby or pay a sitter so they can have time to take care of themselves or connect with their partner.
  • Provide a nutritious meal – this nurtures the person’s body and frees them from having to complete yet another task.
  • Encourage them to get professional help – the person may struggle to identify that they are experiencing PPD and may be afraid to reach out to their doctor.

If you have questions about postpartum or other types of depression, the team at Highland Hospital in West Virginia is happy to help.

Looking for residential mental health treatment in Charleston, West Virginia? For more information about Highland Hospital and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (304) 322-3037.

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