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Sometimes called the “baby blues,” new mothers often feel a collision of emotional upheavals, sadness, anxiety, and even depression. Sometimes, these symptoms rise to the level of a diagnosable depression or even a major depressive disorder.
Postpartum depression shares some symptoms with any depression, but also has components that make it unique. Beyond the sadness, loss of appetite and energy that comes with any depression, mothers may feel no interest in sex or other enjoyable activities, and a withdrawal from normal means of support, like friends and families. When this happens, feelings of inadequacy and guilt surrounding the new child and its care come. Sometimes, there is a feeling that bonding with the newborn isn’t happening and some mothers even think about harming themselves or their infants.
Giving birth does take a physical and emotional toll. Every mother goes through this. However, when the symptoms do not fade after a couple of weeks, it’s time to seek help. Those who have a history of depression or have had postpartum depression before are particularly prone, and these women should advise their doctor of this history before the child is born. For others, they may not realize there is a problem until they are already feeling the double burden of a new baby and a seemingly inescapable round of mounting responsibility, no time for themselves, and a distinct lack of motivation. Self and baby care may suffer, sleep won’t come and the spiral only deepens.
• Keeping your health up will help. This means eating decent meals, getting out for a walk or other exercise and sticking to a regular sleep schedule.
• Get support from friends, family and others. The new baby won’t get your best care if you aren’t caring for yourself – that means making time, and taking time, for yourself. These can be “mini-breaks” for shopping, a movie or just an hour or two in a new environment.
• Don’t take on more than you can realistically do. The super-mom is a fiction. We all have limits on what we can accomplish. Give yourself permission to let the less important things slide. This can mean not doing all the household chores or shifting other responsibilities to a partner.
• Don’t isolate yourself. There is great strength in community. You will find people are very forgiving and very willing to help a new mother. Take them up on this, even if it is just a willing ear or a shoulder to lean on. Any woman who has gone through it will readily commiserate and share their tips.
It is completely appropriate to bring up your feelings with your doctor. Severe depression, is a medical condition. Without treatment, it can lead to an extended period of suffering and possible self-harm or intentional harm to the infant.
Postpartum depression can be treated with counseling, medications and hormone replacement therapy. There are options and these are helpful. Talking out your problems with a trained mental health professional has benefit and they can guide you on specific actions you can take to ease your suffering and symptoms.
Medications, including anti-depressants or sleep aids can be used that are safe, even if you are breast feeding. These have a proven record in helping with postpartum depression. Hormone therapy has the goal of reestablishing a normal hormonal balance.
photo by Petteri Sulonen
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