Postpartum depression is one of the darkest phases of becoming a mother. While the rest of the world expects you to feel honoured and privileged to have birthed a life, you can barely feel connected to your baby, let alone hold or feed the newborn. You feel like you should love your baby, but feel nothing for him/her.
Around 50% to 85% of women experience postpartum blues during the first few weeks after delivery. For the lucky ones, these symptoms abate without any intervention or counselling. However, the ones who show prolonged symptoms have to get immediate help.
Given the prevalence of these symptoms, a lot of antenatal classes inform expecting mothers to be aware of the symptoms themselves and reach out for help should they find the situation unmanageable. It can also be helpful if your partner too participates in these classes, so that he/she is more attuned as to what to expect after the birth of the child.
How can you identify that there might be a possibility of postpartum depression?
Postpartum blues: Women may experience mood fluctuations, anxiety, irritability or tearfulness. They may be constantly emotional and teary. This could last for a few hours or a few days, and generally abate on their own. At that time, it is necessary to have a caregiver around the mother who is experienced with handling women after childbirth.
Delivery is an exhausting process. Having able guidance on holding the baby, the caregiver can assist with feeding and changing the baby’s clothes which can help a lot with symptom management. In addition to this, the mother’s diet is also of utmost importance. She needs to keep her energy levels up and get enough sleep.
Postpartum depression: This is a more severe case of postpartum blues and requires medication. The symptoms are usually manifested as:
- Feeling of guilt for not being in love with the baby or feeling disconnected to him/her
- The sudden physical emptiness manifests itself psychologically and you start feeling incompetent or purposeless
- Erratic sleep pattern and poor focus
- Don’t feel the need to work or do anything or even get out of bed
- Don’t want to be involved with the baby
- Crying every now and then followed by mood turbulence
- Extreme fatigue
Some women may also suffer panic attacks when brought in proximity with their baby. The absolute feeling of disconnection with the child and not wanting to hold it or care for it, are symptoms that call for immediate medical attention. In most cases, with proper medication and counselling, symptoms abate in less than 3 months. If medical intervention is delayed, it could lead to further damage to the mother’s mental health and she could take longer to recover. Postpartum depression affects 6.5% to 12.9% of new mothers.
Postpartum psychosis: This is a psychiatric illness and is as rare as it is serious. You can see rapid shifts in mood. At times they feel elated and other times plunged in grief. They want to be left alone for the most part of it and want nothing to do with their baby. Feelings of incompetence and losing out in life loom large on the mother. This phase can be accompanied by suicidal thoughts and there is a risk of infanticide as well.
Postpartum women are prone to experiencing hormonal fluctuations. These reproductive hormones behave as mood regulators in the body, and their varying levels bring about mood disturbances. Some women who are more sensitive to hormonal mood fluctuations during their menstrual cycle may experience more drastic effects post delivery. At times women also show signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) mostly to do with keeping themselves clean, not letting others touch their baby, not even themselves. If the delivery itself has been trying, or been a highly stressful event, it could trigger feelings of anger or resentment towards the baby.
In any case of postpartum depression, it is best to get the mother immediate care from an experienced healthcare provider. A lot of the symptoms can be managed through medication, tele-counselling, in-person counselling and sessions with midwives. As the mother starts feeling better about herself, she starts connecting with the baby.
Caveat: New mothers who are experiencing postpartum depression are generally prescribed a combination of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication to manage their symptoms. It is strongly recommended that they don’t self medicate and consult a doctor.
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