by Kimberly Allen, RN
You’ve been waiting for months to become a mom and the time has finally arrived and you have a new baby. You expected to be the happiest woman on earth, probably mixed with a little anxiety, but that’s not what happened. Postpartum depression or PPD is the most common problem associated with childbirth, affecting approximately 1 out of 7 first time moms in the US. PPD also affects as many as 10% of new dads too.
In a study published in an online edition of JAMA Psychiatry last March author Kathrine L. Wisner, MD, director of Northwestern Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depression as well as the Norma and Helen Asher Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said that “in the US, the vast majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified or treated even though they are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders.”
It’s normal for women to experience a mild ‘let down’ after giving birth frequently called the ‘baby blues’. This occurs in response to the hormone levels returning to normal and usually passes in a week or two. The baby blues is not PPD. In PPD the symptoms are more pronounced and can last for many months and can even develop into postpartum psychosis. Although PPD can occur in any woman after the birth of any child, it doesn’t have to be your first baby, there are certain factors that increase your risk of developing PPD. In the study published in JAMA lat March they determined that in 30% of the women their depression started before becoming pregnant, 30% had symptoms of depression during their pregnancy and 40%postpartum. In addition to that over two thirds of the women also suffered from an anxiety disorder. Also, among the women screened that were positive for major depression 22% also suffered form bipolar disorder, most of whom had not been diagnosed. There are other factors that can lead to the development of PPD including new parents that have little or no support system of family and friends around them. If you have been through any stressful events in the past year such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job you’re have a greater chance of developing PPD. If you are experiencing significant financial difficulties or if your pregnancy was unwanted or unplanned your chances of developing PPD are higher.
In the beginning the symptoms of PPD can feel like just the ‘baby blues’. You’ll usually feel anxious and have mood swings. Most mom’s with the ‘baby blues’ also have trouble sleeping and cry frequently. However, in PPD instead of fading away in a week or two the symptoms intensify and last longer. They eventually interfere with your ability to perform your activities of daily living as well as care for your new baby. Women with PPD will have severe mood swings along wit severe anger and irritability. They usually withdraw from their friends and family and have difficulty bonding with their baby.
The standard treatment for PPD is counseling and medications. Although antidepressants have proven themselves to be effective in treating PPD it’s important to let your Dr know if you are breast feeding as any medication can enter your breast milk. However, there are some antidepressants now available that can be taken while you’re breastfeeding that pose very little risk for side effects to your baby. Estrogen replacement therapy can help neutralize the rapid drop in your estrogen levels that occurs after childbirth. With proper treatment PPD generally resolves with in a few months. However, left untreated PPD can severely interfere with your daily function and quality of life, it can even turn into a chronic depressive disorder.
There are also things you can do to help yourself feel better. First of all trust your instincts,”if you feel like somethings not right, it probably isn’t”. It’s important to take your feelings seriously and contact your doctor. Believe it or not one of the ways your body removes the excess hormones is through tears, so go ahead and cry it will help your body adjust your hormone levels. If you don’t have any family or friends near to help join a local ‘mom’s group’ for support. And even though it’s difficult to get enough sleep with a new baby it’s crucial to maintaining your health. It’s also important to eat a healthy, well balanced diet and exercise regularly to boost your endorphins as well as avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.