Understanding Postpartum Depression

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The first few months of motherhood and meeting your new baby is a time of joy and happiness for many (not to mention mild stress and sleep deprivation, of course). But what happens when your experience is very different from this?

For some women, motherhood is not what they expected. And while, we all have our moments of stress and sheer exhaustion, sometimes it can be much worse. Postpartum depression is still something that many people don’t know enough about, and don’t know how to talk about — or deal with — when it does affect them.

In this post, we’ll be talking in-depth about postpartum depression. So whether you’re a new mom and you feel like something isn’t right, or you are worried about a loved one who has recently had a baby, you can find some understanding here. 

Recommended reading: Are You Checking In On Yourself Enough?

Postpartum depression vs the baby blues

Feeling emotional or overwhelmed is perfectly normal when you’ve just had a baby — in fact, it’s actually known as the “baby blues,” and is thought to affect as many as 80% of new mothers

The baby blues can happen during the first week after giving birth and usually only hang around for a few days to a week. It’s a normal reaction from your body to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that you go through around childbirth — after all, your body has been through a lot. 

The result is that you can feel very emotional — bursting into tears suddenly, or feeling irritable, low or anxious. All of this is completely normal, and will generally pass.

Postpartum depression is more serious than the baby blues and can happen any time from two to eight weeks after your baby is born (though it can occur up to a year after birth). Whereas the baby blues cause short-term dips in your mood, postpartum depression lasts for much longer. The symptoms of postpartum depression can be extreme and affect your normal day-to-day life. 

So what is postpartum depression?

Photo by Isaac Taylor from Pexels

Postpartum depression is a type of depression that many mothers experience after having a baby. In fact, it is extremely common, affecting more than one in 10 women within a year of giving birth. 

Postpartum depression can have a range of different symptoms which make daily life extremely difficult for the new mother. But the main effects are that you will feel increasingly low, depressed and despondent, especially about life as a mother. 

Looking after yourself and the baby can feel like too much when you have postpartum depression, and everything can seem overwhelming and impossible. 

The stigma around postpartum depression 

The stigma around postpartum depression is getting better, but it’s still there. In fact, many women suffer in silence because it simply isn’t talked about.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Postpartum depression is so often part of motherhood for many women, and we need to start talking about it more. And in doing so, we can understand the condition more, and help more new mothers in need with emotional and practical support. 

The open and frank conversation held by celebrities, social media influencers, and big brands is really helping to change the way we perceive both postpartum depression and postpartum bodies. 

Take underwear brand Knix, for example. Knix’s Life After Birth project celebrates the strength and beauty of postpartum bodies, and by shining a light on what is usually pushed aside and hidden away by social. Knix are making waves with their inspiring project, as well as providing useful maternity wear such as a leakproof nursing bras like this

And more celebrity and influencer moms are coming forward to discuss their postpartum experiences, such as Chrissy Teigan and Adele. By detailing their personal battles with postpartum, these mothers are dispelling the many myths surrounding it, and providing some comfort to the countless women who are feeling confused, upset or guilty about their experience as a new mother. 

Postpartum depression symptoms

If you aren’t familiar with the signs and symptoms, it can be difficult to recognize and understand the signs of postpartum depression — whether it is in yourself or someone you love who has recently become a new mother (whether this is your partner, friend or relative). 

Many women don’t realize that they have postpartum depression because it develops so gradually. You might also think that this is how all new mothers feel. After all, being tired with a newborn is normal. We are often told that parenthood is an emotional and exhausting thing, so we can actually think that what we’re experiencing is to be expected. However, feeling desperately sad and hopeless is not normal. 

If you are a new mother, you may feel like this:

  • Your baby blues don’t get better, and actually get more intense as time goes by
  • Persistently feeling sad, depressed and low
  • Guilty, especially about your capabilities as a mother or ability to bond with your baby 
  • You worry that you will never be a good mom
  • A loss of interest in things you used to enjoy or care about (not laughing at things you would normally find funny, or not enjoying food like you used to)
  • You struggle to make simple decisions
  • You feel tired all of the time and lack energy, but you are unable to get into a sleeping pattern and struggle with insomnia
  • In extreme cases, frightening thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

If you are concerned that a woman you are close to is experiencing postpartum depression, you can also look out for these signs, and pay attention to your partner or friend if they are expressing any of these concerns or sentiments. More often than not, they won’t realize that something is wrong, and may need some help and support in confronting any problems. 

Causes and risk factors of postpartum depression

The causes of postpartum depression aren’t completely clear. However, there are certain factors that mean that you may be more predisposed to suffering from postpartum depression if you decide to have a baby. 

For example, the below physical and emotional factors are associated with postpartum depression:

  • A history of poor mental health such as depression or anxiety earlier in life
  • Any mental health problems that you had during pregnancy
  • A traumatic or stressful life event that happened during the pregnancy or recently (such as a bereavement)
  • Having a poor (ie difficult or traumatic) relationship with your partner or father of your child
  • Not having a strong support system (such as  close family member or friends) to support you during your pregnancy or after  
  • Any problems experienced during the pregnancy, childbirth, or issues with the baby’s health 
  • Alcohol or drug addiction/dependency

Sometimes, you might not tick any of these boxes, but still suffer from postpartum depression — after all, childbirth is a pretty huge life-changing event in itself. 

There is currently no evidence to suggest that there is anything you can do to prevent postpartum depression from occurring, aside from maintaining as healthy a lifestyle as you possibly can. You can do this by eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, and looking after your mental health.

How to get help if you or someone else needs it

If you think that you have postpartum depression, then you shouldn’t struggle through on your own. Talk to someone you trust — such as a partner, family member or friend. 

After that, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor or medical professional. You can ask someone to book the appointment if you don’t feel up to doing it yourself — and you can always take someone with you too. Or, if you have a midwife or medical health team, you could get them to visit. 

A doctor will be able to make a diagnosis by running a few tests and asking you some questions. Once they’ve established how you’re doing, they’ll be able to start treating it, and you can work towards a solution together. Emotional and practical support and effective treatments are available, including psychological therapy (such as CBT), anti-depressants medication, or lifestyle changes to improve your wellbeing. 

Postpartum depression is often misunderstood and not talked about enough. However, by understanding it more, we can tackle it and make it easier to deal with — for ourselves and the new mothers in our lives.

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