To learn more about depression after childbirth, go to Postpartum Depression.
According to the INSPQ, postpartum depression is defined as mood disorders involving sadness or generalised loss of pleasure which occurs almost daily for at least two weeks, preventing the person from doing some of their daily activities.
Based on available statistics, 10% of pregnant women may have depression, especially in the last two trimesters, and between 10-20% during the postnatal period (noted more between the first and sixth month after childbirth).
Anxiety disorders are often associated with perinatal depression.
In reality, there are many different possible reactions to the arrival of a baby, and these signs and symptoms may potentially mask depression in a new mother. The signs, which may be cumulative, can include:
- Sad, melancholic, irritable and variable mood
- Loss of interest in ordinarily fun activities
- Lost of general pleasure in their daily life
- Reduced libido
- Reduced or increased appetite
- Sleep problems insomnia, agitation or hypersomnia
- Loss of energy, constant fatigue and/or psychomotor slowing
- Feels like a “bad mother”, “incompetent”, “guilty”
The symptoms can even extend to a lack of concentration, indecision and suicidal thoughts.
According to practitioners and researchers, it seems that women are at a higher risk of postpartum issues when associated with their experiences or personality: perfectionist, controlling, independent, competitive and those that have had depression in the past or where depression is hereditary. It is certain that other life stresses can be added to pregnancy and childbirth, such as traumatic birth, difficult financial situation, unplanned birth, separation, poor prenatal preparation or insufficient support network. This can increase disbalances during the postnatal period and lead to depression.
A baby means doing what you can, not necessarily what you want. It’s letting go of knowing what will happen and how you will react emotionally. It’s learning to let go and to trust ones’ self. Becoming a mother is a learning process, discovering deep strengths and human limits. Each person has their own limits and vulnerabilities. No one is perfect, always strong and proud throughout life.
During the postnatal period, some factors seem to protect or prevent depression, specifically when a woman has good self-esteem, breastfeeds her baby and has support from her partner and social network.
Some signs may indicate postpartum depression that can be seen during the first month after childbirth, but this state may extend throughout the first year. For these women, asking for help is very difficult. They would prefer getting help without having to ask for it to avoid feeling incompetent, maintaining a degree of self-esteem. That is why many will try to minimise the signs and symptoms, which makes it even more challenging to diagnose postpartum depression. Their network, partner and family represent important allies during this period. They need to recognise her vulnerability and be available to let her rest, take a break, make sure she eats well and can adequately recover from the trauma of childbirth. Body and mind are intimately linked, and by taking care of the mother physically, you can help her recover psychologically.
Unfortunately, we all can feel powerless when faced with someone who is suffering. This may limit our ability to listen (it’s hard to talk about negative emotions) and reduce presence (people can flee situations or during a blind eye). Yet we all should know that listening, without judging, being comforting and caring can help the mother express herself and prevent severe complications or consequences. Don’t forget that what goes unsaid transforms into anxiety, depression or other physical or psychological ailments. You have to be attentive to the mother’s words, sensitive to the different symptoms, encourage her to talk freely about what she is experiencing, and accept what she has to say.
Potential Consequences of Perinatal Depression
A pregnant woman experiencing depression will not likely eat properly, maintain a healthy lifestyle, be active and talk to her doctor or caregiver. This can have impacts on her health and her baby’s development. Inadequate weight gain during pregnancy can mean low birth weight for the baby, premature birth and higher risks of obstetric complications, and even attachment issues between mother and baby.
For advice and references, go to the following part Helping Depressed Women.