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Postpartum Depression and Psychosis: Breaking the Silence

For the majority of new mothers, the arrival of their precious newborns ushers in a time of joy and celebration. But for eleven to twenty percent of new mothers in the United States, the time after delivery is anything but a cause for celebration.

The CDC estimates that roughly 600,000 women suffer each year from postpartum depression. However, these numbers fail to consider the women who suffer postpartum depression after miscarriage or a stillbirth. When these women are taken into consideration the numbers are closer to 900,000 annually.

Because of the stigma associated with postpartum depression and the failure of healthcare providers to screen new mothers and recognize the illness, an estimated 850,000 women fail to get the treatment that they need. Tragically, these women go on to abuse drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms of postpartum depression and many needlessly suffer from anxiety or depression for the rest of their lives.

We need to break the shroud of silence that surrounds this common illness so that the 850,000 women who go untreated annually can step forward and receive the help that they so desperately need.

7 The Baby Blues

It’s perfectly normal for new mothers to suffer from "the baby blues" for up to a week after giving birth. Drastic hormonal changes, caring for the needs of a newborn, lack of sleep, and visits from relatives can be a cause of stress to a new mother and bring on a case of the baby blues.

It’s perfectly normal to experience these things in the days after giving birth:

●inability to concentrate

●irritability

●sadness

●anxiety

●mood swings

●sleeplessness

The baby blues generally becomes worse until about four days postpartum and usually disappears on its own by two weeks postpartum.

Getting help from friends and family can help you get much needed rest in these early days. Good nutrition is critical during this time to help keep your mind and body strong. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is different from the baby blues. Postpartum depression is a serious illness that can last for weeks or months. It can occur anytime in the first few months postpartum, after weaning baby, after a miscarriage, and after a stillbirth.

Postpartum depression can occur in anyone. However, there are some women who are at greater risk of developing it. A few of the things that place a woman at greater risk for suffering from postpartum depression are:

  • under age twenty at the time of delivery
  • extreme stress during the pregnancy or delivery
  • previous depression diagnosis
  • lack of support from family and friends
  • unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
  • drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • history of depression or anxiety prior to the pregnancy
  • financial issues
  • premature baby or sick baby

6 What Causes Postpartum Depression?

The exact cause of postpartum depression is unknown. But there are some contributing factors that can be identified as factors in developing the disease.

After pregnancy and childbirth, a woman’s body goes through major hormonal changes as the body switches from pregnancy mode, to milk making mode. When combined with other factors, these drastic hormonal changes can make a woman more susceptible to depression.

Caring for a newborn is demanding. Lack of sleep, plus getting to know your little one’s cues can put a lot of emotional stress on a new mother. The entire family goes through a period of adjustment when a new baby arrives, and no one feels that more than a new mother.

Some postpartum women become depressed due to the change in their appearance. Saggy skin, stretch marks, and dark circles under the eyes can make any woman feel completely unattractive.

You may struggle with feelings of inadequacy, especially if you are caring for a colicky or sick baby. These feelings can cause you to question your ability as a parent and allow depression to creep in.

5 Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

It is important to know the signs of postpartum depression so that you can recognize them in yourself and others. One of the biggest obstacles keeping women from getting proper treatment for their postpartum depression is the lack of ability to recognize it in themselves. Healthcare professionals often fail to diagnose postpartum depression because they brush it off as normal postpartum issues.

A woman may suffer from one or more of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. It is important to recognize the following as possible indicators of postpartum depression:

  • feeling completely overwhelmed and unable to care for baby
  • feeling disconnected from family and friends
  • confusion
  • extreme irritation
  • feeling numb
  • lack of appetite or emotional overeating
  • sleeplessness, even though you are emotionally and physically exhausted
  • sleeping too much to escape daily activities
  • a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right
  • extreme sadness, bouts of uncontrollable crying
  • not feeling a bond with baby
  • desiring to run away or escape
  • suicidal thoughts
  • fear that if you get help you will be sent away or baby will be taken away

If your find yourself dealing with one or more of these issues on a regular basis, it is imperative that you seek help. Get in touch with your healthcare provider immediately.

Postpartum depression is treatable.

4 Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is often confused with postpartum depression. While there are similarities between the two, postpartum psychosis occurs in one in a thousand births, and is considered an emergency situation.

Five percent of postpartum psychosis cases end in suicide. Four percent end in the death of the infant. When suffering from postpartum psychosis, a woman is literally detached from reality. The irrational becomes rational. Often the delusions are of a religious nature.

While most women who suffer from postpartum psychosis don’t harm themselves or others, it is important to realize that the hallucinations and delusions are very real to the woman at the time. Because of this , she may act out in ways that are completely against her normal character.

Postpartum psychosis generally has a sudden onset within the first two weeks postpartum. It’s symptoms are of a different nature than postpartum depression.

Some of the symptoms associated with postpartum psychosis are:

  • hallucinations
  • extreme irritability
  • strange beliefs or delusions
  • feeling paranoid or overly suspicious, without reason
  • inability to communicate
  • hyperactivity, decreased or no need for sleep
  • extreme mood swings

Postpartum psychosis is treatable. Immediate treatment is necessary to prevent the woman from harming herself or others. If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of postpartum psychosis seek help immediately.

3 Treating Postpartum Depression

Seeking out appropriate help is the first step in treating postpartum depression. After discussing your symptoms with you, your healthcare provider will be able to form a plan of treatment. It is important that you be completely honest with your healthcare provider so that you get the proper treatment for your condition.

Early detection and treatment will help produce the best outcome for you and your loved ones. Research shows evidence that children are affected by their mother’s untreated postpartum depression. Sleep issues, behavioral issues, and problems in school are all signs that the mother’s postpartum depression is affecting her children.

Mild cases of postpartum depression may go away on their own in three months after baby is born. If postpartum depression is affecting your ability to perform your daily activities, additional treatment is needed.

Medications

The first areas your healthcare provider will want to address when beginning a treatment plan for postpartum depression are nutritional issues and sleep disturbances. Adequate rest and nutrition are the foundations for treating postpartum depression and helping you enjoy life with your new blessing.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe supplements and have you consult with a dietician to ensure that you are getting enough nutrition for your body to recover from pregnancy and delivery. This is especially important if your are breastfeeding.

Your healthcare provider will also talk to you about implementing an antidepressant as part of your treatment plan. There are some antidepressants that are classified as safe to use while breastfeeding. Be sure that your healthcare provider is aware that you are breastfeeding, if that is the case.

Generally it is recommended that antidepressants are taken for six months to a year after they are prescribed to avoid a relapse. At that point, you can discuss your options with your healthcare provider. The majority of women who are prescribed antidepressants to treat postpartum depression are able to wean off of their prescription after six months to a year.

If you are using birth control, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about using a method other than the Pill. The Pill can sometimes make depression symptoms worse.

If you plan to become pregnant again, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antidepressant at some point in your pregnancy to avoid the occurrence of another bout of postpartum depression. 

2 Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is often used alone or in harmony with prescription medicine to treat postpartum depression. Your healthcare provider will be able to refer you to a mental health professional that specializes in postpartum depression.

Your therapist can be a wonderful ally in your efforts to beat postpartum depression. He or she can help you formulate reasonable goals to help you overcome postpartum depression. Your therapist is also a neutral party that can objectively help you work through this difficult time.

Reach Out

Real time and online support groups can offer a wealth of information for practical advice on how to cope with postpartum depression. Connecting with women who have gone through or are going through postpartum depression can give you a safe place to vent and learn practical coping skills.

1 Tips for Dads

Your baby’s father probably had dreams of cozy times spent getting adjusted to life with a new addition. Postpartum depression affects dads as well as the rest of the family. Your baby’s father may feel that he has been left alone to navigate family life with a newborn alone.

A man’s natural instinct is to step in and fix the situation. Postpartum depression isn’t something that has an easy fix. This is a journey that you are going to have to be willing to go through together, no matter how long it takes.

Studies show that a woman recovers faster from postpartum depression with the love and support of her baby’s father. You may feel helpless, but your unconditional love and support will go far in helping your baby’s mother through this.

Life will return to normal, you will get through this. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends, and even professionals to help you and your family get through this.

Postpartum depression changes a woman, seemingly overnight in some cases. Assure her that you love her and will be by her side through this. Believe her when she explains her symptoms to you. They may not seem plausible to you, but to her, they are very frightening and very real.

Sometimes helping in practical ways speaks volumes. Here are some ways you can show your support in tangible ways:

  • do laundry or housework
  • make meals or order out
  • educate yourself about postpartum depression
  • go to therapist and doctor’s appointments with her when possible
  • set healthy boundaries with well meaning friends and family
  • sit with her
  • listen
  • call her to check on her

Now isn’t the time to make any major decisions. Even the most simple tasks and decisions will overwhelm her at this point. There will be time for major decisions after she recovers.

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