About This Pamphlet
This pamphlet is intended for individuals suffering from postpartum depression, also known as depression after childbirth. We hope it will be equally useful for the families and friends of those affected, as well as for anyone interested in learning more about this condition. This brochure outlines the symptoms of postpartum depression, self-help methods, and some of the available treatments. It also provides references for further research and helpful books.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that occurs after childbirth. Sometimes there may be an obvious cause, but often there is none. This condition can be particularly distressing because you may have eagerly awaited your baby throughout your pregnancy. You might feel guilty for having these emotions or even feel like you can’t cope with your role as a mother. This condition can last for weeks or even months. People with mild postpartum depression can often benefit from support from their families and friends. Those experiencing more severe forms of depression will require additional help from their doctors, healthcare providers, or in some cases, psychologists or psychiatrists.
How Common is Postpartum Depression?
Approximately 1 in 10 women experience postpartum depression after giving birth. If left untreated, this condition can persist for months, or sometimes even longer.
What Do Women with Postpartum Depression Feel?
Depression You may feel “down” and unhappy most of the time. You might experience worse moods at specific times of the day, like in the morning or at night. Sometimes you have good days that give you hope that things are finally getting better. However, when these good days are followed by “bad” days, it can be incredibly disheartening. At times, you may even feel like life is not worth living.
You may find yourself getting easily angered by other children, or even your own child. You might also start complaining to your partner, who may understandably be confused about what is going on with you.
While all new mothers are extremely tired, depression can make you feel so exhausted that you feel physically ill.
Even when you finally get a chance to sleep, you find that you can’t. You wake up very early in the morning, even if your partner has fed the baby during the night.
Loss of Appetite
Mothers suffering from depression often don’t have the time or interest to eat, leaving you feeling irritable and weak. However, if you start eating solely for comfort, you may feel guilty and bad about yourself for gaining weight.
Loss of the Ability to Feel Pleasure
You no longer find joy or interest in anything, and this can particularly affect your sexual life. Some women regain interest in sexual activity before the first postpartum check-up at 6 weeks, but those with postpartum depression usually have no desire or enthusiasm. Your partner might crave the pleasure and excitement of sexual contact, but you do not. This can further strain your relationship. There are, of course, many other reasons to lose interest in sex after childbirth: you might feel pain during sexual contact, or be too tired.
Postpartum depression can make you feel overwhelmed, as if you’re constantly running out of time and nothing you do is right. It can be difficult to establish a new routine that helps you manage both your baby and the rest of your responsibilities.
Depression alters the way you think, causing you to view things in a negative light. This can lead to feelings of guilt, self-blame, and the perception that you are responsible for your own illness or failing your family in some way.
You may feel scared to be alone with your baby, worrying that they might cry, choke, or get hurt in some manner. Instead of feeling bonded with your child, you may feel distant. You find it challenging to understand what your baby is feeling or what they need from you.
Persistent Worry Despite Love for Your Baby
Even if you have strong feelings of love for your baby, you might still be plagued by anxiety. While most new mothers worry about their baby’s health, those experiencing postpartum depression are often consumed by it. You may worry about losing your baby to infection, mishandling, poor growth, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. You may be concerned about your baby’s cough, or whether they are gaining weight. You might worry when your baby cries or even when they are too quiet (Has their breathing stopped?). Sometimes, you might even worry that you could harm your baby. You may constantly seek reassurance from your partner, doctor, visiting nurse, family, or neighbors.
Concerns About Your Own Health
You may also worry about your own health. You might feel panicked – your pulse races, your heart pounds strongly, and you may worry that you’re suffering from heart disease or are going to have a stroke. Your fatigue might lead you to question if you have a severe illness, or wonder if you’ll ever regain your energy.
Struggle Even for the Most Capable
Even the most capable person can feel overwhelmed, unable to cope with everything, and desperately seek attachment to their partner.
Other Mental Health Issues After Childbirth
Baby Blues Around the third or fourth day after giving birth, about half of new mothers feel emotionally vulnerable, down, and unsure about themselves. This is commonly referred to as “baby blues” and usually dissipates after a few days.
Postpartum Psychosis This is a severe condition that urgently requires medical treatment and support. It affects approximately 1 in 500 women, usually a few days or weeks after childbirth. Symptoms may include rapid mood swings, strange beliefs, or hearing voices, and behaving in an odd or unpredictable manner. If you experience this, immediate medical attention and support are crucial. You may also need to be admitted to a hospital where you can have your baby with you while you recover. You are at a higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis if you have:
- A family history of postpartum psychosis
- A family history of bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
- A previous episode of postpartum psychosis or bipolar disorder.
It’s important to inform your doctors and midwives about any of the above factors while you are pregnant, as the treatment you receive could reduce the risk of developing postpartum psychosis. Although it is a severe condition, with appropriate treatment, you can fully recover.
Depression During Pregnancy
It’s important to know that depression can also occur during pregnancy. This is much more common than most people think, and those affected can be helped in the same way as those with postpartum depression.
What Happens to Men?
Although postpartum depression is much more common in women, it can also affect men. The birth of a baby can be a source of stress for both parents. Fathers may struggle to adapt to the new situation, both due to the practical challenges of caring for a newborn and because their partner is focusing all her attention on the baby. Postpartum depression in either parent can strain their relationship.
When Does Postpartum Depression Occur?
Most cases of postpartum depression begin within a month of giving birth, but it can also start up to six months later.
What’s Going on with Hormones?
The levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, as well as other hormones associated with conception and childbirth, drop dramatically after the baby is born. However, it’s not entirely clear how these hormonal changes directly affect mood and emotions. Significant differences have not been found in hormone levels between women who experience postpartum depression and those who do not, and there’s no solid evidence from research to suggest that these changes are a major contributing factor to depression. Hormonal changes may play a more significant role in postpartum blues or postpartum psychosis.
Do Mothers with Postpartum Depression Harm Their Babies?
Very rarely, although mothers who suffer from depression often worry that this could happen. Discussing your feelings with your doctor or healthcare visitor can help.
Sometimes, due to extreme exhaustion and despair, you may feel like you want to shake or hit your baby. Many mothers (and fathers) feel this way sometimes, not just those suffering from postpartum depression. However, even if such thoughts do occur, most mothers never act on them. This holds true even for mothers who are experiencing postpartum depression.
What Can Be Done to Help?
First and foremost, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the individual is suffering from depression. In the past, this was often overlooked or simply considered to be postpartum blues.
You may not understand what’s happening to you and could feel embarrassed to admit that you’re not particularly joyful about becoming a mother. You may even worry that if you admit it, your baby could be taken away from you. This is highly unlikely. Your doctor, healthcare visitor, or midwife wants to help you get better so you can enjoy and take care of your baby.
Society today is better informed about depression, so postpartum depression should not escape medical attention as frequently as it might have in the past. Questionnaires, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, can assist healthcare providers in identifying postpartum depression.
Ways to Help Yourself
Express Your Emotions
If you’re feeling unhappy, irritable, incapable, or scared, and have lost interest in your baby, then speak up. You’re not alone; many other women have felt the same way. If you find it difficult to talk to your family or friends, reach out to your healthcare visitor or doctor. They understand that these feelings are common and know how to offer assistance.
Don’t Let the Diagnosis Scare You
At least now you know what the issue is, and that you’re not alone—many other mothers have experienced the same problem. Also, remember that with time, you’ll get better. Knowing the nature of the issue can help your partner, friends, and family understand what you’re going through, enabling them to offer more targeted support.
Ways Others Can Help
Don’t Be Shocked or Disappointed
If your wife, partner, sister, or friend confides in you that she’s been feeling terrible since giving birth, listen to her and make sure she gets the necessary support.
Try not to be shocked or disappointed if she is diagnosed with postpartum depression; it’s a treatable condition, and she can recover.
Offer Practical Assistance
Do whatever you can to help with the practical things that need to be done while your partner feels she can’t manage them: shopping, changing and feeding the baby, or house chores. It may be tough for a while, but it’s worth the effort.
Make sure you know exactly what’s going on and how to help, especially if you’re the mother’s partner.
Take Care of Yourself Too
If this is your first child, you might feel neglected due to both the baby’s needs and your partner’s. Try not to take this personally. Your partner needs your support and encouragement. Offering practical help with the baby, listening to your partner with understanding, being patient, and providing love and tenderness—as well as maintaining a positive attitude—go a long way. Your partner will appreciate it, even when she gets better.