Having a new baby always brings great emotional and physical changes. You will experience feelings like love, joy, excitement, frustration and nervousness, just to name a few. These ups and downs in the first weeks and months after childbirth are expected. However, many young mothers suffer from depression and anxiety, which can overshadow the celebration of welcoming a new baby. These feelings are called postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is often overlooked, especially in Africa. In fact, many may call it witchcraft when they see a new mother struggling to bond with her baby, but science has shown that this is the case. The good news is that it is not a permanent condition if it is diagnosed early and treated properly.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a severe and long-lasting form of depression that the mother experiences after giving birth. It usually occurs two to eight weeks after birth, but can occur up to a year after the baby is born.
One of the most important things about postpartum depression is that it’s not just sad, Dr. Alison Stuebe, a subspecialist in maternal-fetal medicine and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told UNICEF.
Postpartum depression is not the same as baby blues – feelings of mood swings, crying fits, anxiety, and sleep disturbances that usually occur within two or three days after birth. Postpartum depression is not a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it is the result of complications in childbirth. If you have the disease or know someone who is experiencing it, seek help to manage the disease and connect with the new baby.
Causes of postpartum depression
The final causes of postpartum depression have not yet been clinically clarified. However, studies have shown that factors such as genetics, physical changes and emotional problems can play a role.
According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that a family history of postpartum depression increases the risk of developing the disease after birth.
When a woman gives birth, her hormones estrogen and progesterone decrease and this can contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by the thyroid gland can also fall off quickly, which often leads to feelings of fatigue, sluggishness and depression.
Insomnia is a norm in the care of a newborn. However, it can make you feel overwhelmed and worried about your ability to take care of a newborn. You may even find it difficult to deal with minor problems. In addition, problems with body image, struggling with your self-confidence and feeling that you have lost control over your life can contribute to postpartum depression.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can suffer from postpartum depression if you have:
- Feeling sad, worthless, hopeless or guilty.
- To worry excessively or feel nervous.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or things that you once enjoyed.
- Changes in appetite or not eating.
- Loss of energy and motivation.
- Sleep disorders or the desire to sleep all the time.
- Crying for no reason or excessively.
- Difficulty thinking or focusing.
- Suicidal thoughts or desires to be dead.
- Lack of interest in your baby or fear for your baby.
- Thoughts of hurting your baby or feeling like you don’t want it.
How to treat postpartum depression
Treatment of postpartum depression depends on the nature and severity of the symptoms. Below you will find proven treatment options and how you can get support.
Make sure you get enough care and support at home. Do you have someone to take care of things while you are focusing on your baby? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you eat nutritious foods? In southeastern Nigeria, the Igbo have the Omugwo, a culture in which the mother or relatives of a new mother take care of her after giving birth. Ask for help from close relatives and friends to take care of you and things around the house so that you have time to rest and focus on your baby.
Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a variety of treatment techniques designed to help you recognize and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors through conversations with a psychologist. There are several types of psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT). Talk to your doctor to recommend it to a professional.
I tell parents as soon as they think, ‘This doesn’t feel right to me,’ so it’s helpful to contact a trusted doctor, Dr. Stuebe recommends. Just like if I had a high fever, I would ask for help.
Postpartum Support International says, and I love that: ‘You are not alone, you are not to blame and with help you will get better.
Medications include options such as anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants. Small amounts of antidepressants can be transmitted through breast milk, but, as a rule, they have minimal effect on the milk supply and the well-being of the baby. Therefore, do not stop breastfeeding because you are taking these medicines.
If there are no clear signs of damage, it makes a lot of sense to treat and continue breastfeeding, Dr. Stuebe recommends. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication.
Talk to people with similar experiences. Often our loved ones do not understand what we are going through just because they were not there. That is why it is important to join available peer support and counseling groups to share thoughts, feelings and experiences. If you don’t know one, ask your doctor to recommend one.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Don’t blame yourself because you don’t feel the instant connection that many mothers often feel after having their babies. You are not alone. Seek help from family, friends and professionals.
Give yourself grace. Realize that you may not be as calm and controlled as usual, says Dr. Stuebe. Also know that if these feelings last for some time, it’s not that you’re not a good parent, it’s just that your brain has been asked to do some gymnastics.
So do not rush to be like others. Instead, get the help you need and you’ll be better sooner than expected.