Postpartum Depression (PPD) — also known as post natal anxiety and depression (PNAD) or perinatal mood disorder — is a disease related to pregnancy and childbirth.
It is an illness that exists in all cultures, and can happen to child-bearing women of all ages — up to 40% of South African women experience PPD, and it can happen after the first pregnancy, or the third.
What is postpartum depression?
PPD is an illness characterised by feelings of hopelessness or sadness post-pregnancy and childbirth.
This is not to be confused with a condition known as the ‘baby blues’, which can occur within the first few days after delivery, and disappear within 10 – 12 days. When the symptoms of ‘baby blues’ persist and worsen, however, it can be the development of PPD, which is recognised as clinical depression requiring specific treatment.
Greater awareness and education around PPD is required, as many women do not come forward because of the shame, guilt and embarrassment associated with the illness. PPD, however, is not a reflection on a mother’s ability to be a caregiver; a study done by the Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York City has shown that there is a clear biologic abnormality in the mother’s brain which is causing the illness.
Postpartum depression is a serious mental illness that can affect how you function, as well as put your baby at risk.
What are the signs and symptoms of PPD?
When dealing with any kind of depression, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, as this is often the first way to identify that help may be needed.
The following symptoms are some of the most common associated with PPD, usually occurring within the first three months after the baby is born:
- erratic eating patterns
- extreme sleeping habits (either sleep too much, or not at all)
- feelings of guilt and shame, or inadequacy
- anger and irritability
- uncontrollable thoughts of harm coming to the baby
- tearfulness or constant sad moods
- poor concentration or loss of interest in usual activities
PPD also affects the partner in the relationship, particularly if they are having to care for the depressed individual, as well as manage the lifestyle and personal changes associated with the arrival of a newborn.
Knowing which signs and symptoms to look for is important, but it is equally important to look for those signs in both individuals in the relationship, as PPD can affect both mothers and fathers.
How do you treat it?
One of the reasons it is so important to encourage education and more knowledge about postpartum depression is because it is so easily treatable.
Many individuals who experience PPD find significant relief in antidepressant medication. Though most antidepressants are safe for breastfeeding and pregnancy, it is important to consult with your doctor before beginning any kind of medication.
Another effective route for treatment is counselling and therapy sessions, where techniques for dealing with the various symptoms (like anxiety) can be learned.
Many find that establishing a support system, either of friends and family, or of fellow sufferers of PPD also helps, particularly in providing empathy for what you’re going through.
Breastfeeding in the early months also comes with advantages. Not only for the health benefits to the baby, but also because breastfeeding can promote better bonding between a mother and her infant, and increase a woman’s confidence in her mothering abilities.
Critical to effective treatment is to involve your partner — PPD can be incredibly isolating, to both parties, and it’s important to not feel alone in this situation. Relationships can suffer because of depression, and PPD is no different, so remember to tend to your relationship, embrace it and your partner, and take care of each other.
How to prevent postpartum depression
It is difficult to reliably predict which individuals in the general population will experience PPD. However, it is possible to identify the onset of the illness with individuals who have history with depression.
Treatment for this can involve prophylactic antidepressants prior and post delivery, as well as clinical observation throughout the pregnancy, to monitor for changes in mood and behaviours.
PPD is an illness that can affect you, your partner and your baby, so it’s important that, if the symptoms are present, you notify a professional and seek out the best way to manage and treat the illness.
Links / References:
PANDA Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia – Postnatal Anxiety and Depression. Retrieved from http://www.panda.org.au/practical-information/about-postnatal-depression/28-postnatal-depression
PNDSA – Medicating the pregnant and breast feeding mother. Retrieved from http://www.pndsa.org.za/medicating-the-pregnant-and-breast-feeding-mother
WebMD – Postpartum Depression. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/depression/postpartum-depression/
Massachusetts General Hospital – Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders. Retrieved from https://womensmentalhealth.org/specialty-clinics/postpartum-psychiatric-disorders/