We’re fortunate to live in a time when mental health issues are being more widely recognized and treated. Postpartum depression is an area that has seen a lot of attention in the last decade and yet there is still so much more to be done. The condition is characterized by mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping after giving birth.
The causes of postpartum depression are varied and not all fully understood. One cause of postpartum depression is postnatal hormonal changes. There is a significant drop in estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is responsible for regulating mood and emotion, and increases the “feel-good” chemicals, serotonin and endorphins, in the brain. Progesterone similarly serves as a natural antidepressant, and helps stabilize one’s mood. Loss of both evidently makes an impact on an individual’s emotional health. Postpartum depression also decreases hormones produced by the thyroid gland, resulting in a sluggish and exhausted feeling.
Another cause of depression is the sleep deprivation and overwhelming nature of experiencing a pregnancy. Many women feel a loss of control over their lives or do not feel their best selves during this period.
The following are risk factors of postpartum depression:
- Past history of depression
- Bipolar disorder
- Postpartum depression from a previous pregnancy
- Baby has health issues or other special needs
- Difficulty breast-feedings
- Financial issues
- Weak support system
- Relationships problems with a significant other
There continues to be a stigma associated with postpartum depression. It’s time we end the misconceptions, and to start openly talking about the disorder. Postpartum depression is not a character flaw or a weakness. It doesn’t define you, and it’s okay to seek help for it. Educating ourselves on the illness, and to be honest with ourselves regarding the support we need is a significant step in the right direction. Not only will it improve your own health and well-being, but also your baby’s. Get as much rest as you can, accept help from your family and friends, and prioritize self-care. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. The disorder is most often treated with mental health counseling, medication, or both. These options have shown to be effective in improving symptoms; however, it’s important to continue your treatment after you begin to feel better in order to avoid relapse.
We now also know that it’s not just a risk for women in the first 6 weeks after delivery, or even the first 3 months. A NIH study, conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), has made significant findings on the length of time postpartum depression may first manifest. NIH study results suggest that even a six month period may not be adequate enough to gauge a mother’s depressive symptoms, and instead emphasizes close monitoring and screenings over a longer period of time. The study analyzed long-term data of maternal mental health. Participants were given a short, five-item depression screening questionnaire, and were assessed at 4,12, 24, and 36 months postpartum. Ultimate findings show one in four moms experience severe depression within three years of giving birth.
Check on your friends and loved ones as well. If you believe postpartum depression is affecting them, provide them with the support they need, encourage them to speak with their physician, and acknowledge their progress if they’re showing improvement. If you feel this is something affecting you, reach out to your physician or set up an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist in your area. Getting help early on can completely change the trajectory of your recovery and experiences as a new mother.
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