There is an expectation and belief that after a mother gives birth, she will immediately bond with her baby. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s a little more complicated. The reality is that many new parents struggle with their mental and physical health after the birth of their babies. Often their struggles can be attributed to postpartum depression or PPD.
Raising awareness about PPD is important, however, there is a lot of conflicting information out there, and believing everything you hear about PPD can be dangerous.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
There are many postpartum mental health conditions such as postpartum anxiety, OCD, and psychosis, that can occur after birth. According to WebMD, PPD is a severe form of clinical depression that has an onset around 4 weeks after giving birth but can start anytime within a year after giving birth. Approximately 1 in 7 new mothers end up with the condition and it can be debilitating
PPD can be characterized by:
Lack of interest in things that you used to enjoy (decreased libido, less or more interest in eating)
Feeling alone, isolating
Insomnia (which has nothing to with having to tend to the baby in the night)
Excessive fatigue (which again, has nothing to with losing sleep from tending to the baby in the night)
Feelings of hopelessness, overwhelming despair, extreme sadness, or apathy (low energy levels, or a lack of emotion)
Anxiety or panic attacks
Inability to concentrate and focus
Extreme weight gain or weight loss, depending on how the appetite is affected
Struggling to bond with the baby as well as bonding with the partner
Shutting loved ones and friends out
Thoughts of self-harm and suicide (which means getting help must happen right away)
If you are concerned that you might have PPD, take this quiz and discuss it with your provider. The wonderful news is, PPD is treatable, life gets better, and happy days are ahead. Call your doctor today and make an appointment to discuss treatment options, you are not at fault, you deserve to be happy, you deserve to have a beautiful bond with your baby.
Why Do Mothers Get PPD?
Within a few days after giving birth, the mother’s hormone levels take a sharp drop. Along with these drastic internal changes, she is also experiencing social and psychological changes. Sometimes a traumatic birth can increase the likelihood that mothers will get PPD. Sleep is also a huge factor—one study found that mothers who experience less than 4 hours of consistent sleep at night, and mothers who nap less than 60 minutes during the day are more at risk for PPD, regardless of the baby’s temperament. Women are more likely to get PPD if they have a history of mental illness, are a younger pregnant mother, have had children before (with each additional pregnancy there is a higher likelihood she’ll have PPD), have limited social support, are living alone, or have marital conflicts.
Sufferers of PPD don't necessarily have all of the characteristics listed above and they can be affected mildly, moderately, severely, or profoundly.
Believing everything you hear about PPD can be dangerous, and it’s important to understand it fully. Listed below are 8 of the most common postpartum depression misconceptions:
1. If The Mom Is Not Crying All Of The Time, Then She Does Not Have Postpartum Depression
Crying is only one characteristic of PPD. However, not all sufferers of PPD cry. Some may even put on a happy face just to hide what they are really experiencing and feeling. Parents who have just given birth (or even if they have a baby that is several months old) will want to seek medical help if they are feeling ‘off’.
2. Moms Get PPD Right After They Deliver Their Babies
PPD does not happen right after birth. It most commonly develops 1-3 weeks after birth but it can also develop anytime during the first year of the baby's life; many women report symptoms at 3 or 6 months postpartum.
The mood swings that occur right after delivery are referred to as the baby blues.
3. Baby Blues and PPD are the Same Thing
Baby blues are common. Among 80% of mothers report mood dips—being proud one minute and not feeling good enough the next, irritability, anxiety, or exhaustion within the first few weeks after the baby is born, but it usually goes away within 1-2 weeks. Baby blues are a result of erratic hormones, physical trauma to the body due to giving birth, and exhaustion. For those with PPD, these feelings do not go away without treatment. They struggle to eat, sleep, take care of themselves or the baby, feel hopeless, struggle to bond with their baby, or even experience panic attacks. Mothers with PPD need to seek treatment to recover, whereas baby blues will peter out within 2 weeks.
4. Mothers With PPD Will Hurt Themselves Or Their Babies
Suicide and infanticide are extremely devastating and fortunately, quite rare. According to one study, it was found that sufferers of PPD that had suicidal thoughts were reported by less than 4 percent of those screened for the condition. In that group, it was found that just over 1 percent were at a high-risk of suicide. It was found that 4 in 100,000 had involved infanticide, which means it is rare.
The real risk of PPD is that if it is not treated properly, it can escalate to postpartum psychosis (PPP). That is when the risk for suicide and infanticide increase. This is very unlikely for the sufferer of PPD who is being treated and monitored.
5. PPD Can Go Away On Its Own
Treatment is important for PPD. According to the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, it was found that those who were treated for PPD could still suffer from major depressive disorder a year later. Those who delayed seeking treatment were at risk of developing chronic depression for years to come after.
6. Medication Is The Only Treatment For PPD
If affected mothers join a support group for PPD, it can be very helpful. Alternative therapy such as light therapy, omega 3 supplements, or acupuncture are also considered valuable. Postpartum Support International can help sufferers or their loved ones find support in their local areas.
Medication and counseling are the standard and most effective treatment for PPD, however, every individual is different, and should understand their options. Mothers that have PPD are able to continue to breastfeed their infants while taking most antidepressants or SSRIs. They are safe. Be sure to talk to your doctor for additional guidance.
7. PPD Doesn’t Affect The Mother’s Overall Health
The PPD sufferer's overall health is greatly affected. Insomnia on its own can lead to many chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular health problems. Uncontrolled, PPD can result in poor nutrition which will lead to also chronic conditions as listed above. Often PPD can affect the mother and baby’s bond, which can lead to attachment disorders in the child as well. For these reasons, it is crucial to speak up and get help.
8. Only Women Can Get PPD
Fathers can also get PPD which is known as paternal postpartum depression. According to some studies, it was found that the incidence of paternal postpartum depression can happen as often as it does in mothers. There is a connection between maternal and paternal PPD which means if one partner ends up with PPD, then the other can easily as well.
The only difference is that paternal PPD has not been studied as extensively as maternal PPD. Fathers that are experiencing signs of PPD are strongly encouraged to get help as soon as possible so they can be in good overall health.
There is something you can do today
At Rhea Women’s Health, we seek to educate, empower, and provide support systems for mothers. Click here to learn more.
Again, if you think you (or someone you know) might have PPD have them take this quiz. PPD is treatable, there are beautiful days ahead. Call your doctor today to discuss treatment options because you deserve to be happy, and you deserve a beautiful bond with your baby.