Postpartum depression is only one mental health issue related to pregnancy and the time after birth. Two other possibilities are postpartum blues, and rarely, postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum blues, or baby blues, appear as a depressed mood in women shortly after they give birth. Over half of women experience postpartum blues. It can start as early as the third day after the baby is born. Symptoms include crying spells, problems sleeping or concentrating, depressed mood, tiredness and anxiety. Normally, the blues end within two weeks.
Experts are not sure why so many women get baby blues after a delivery. Changes in hormones may cause these symptoms. If you have postpartum blues, your risk of postpartum depression is higher.
Treating postpartum blues – If a woman is experiencing problems, she often goes to see her family doctor about it. The doctor will ask questions to make sure it is just the blues, and not something more serious. If everything seems normal, the doctor offers support and reassurance that this is common and not worrisome. Most women do not need medication for the blues. They normally improve with time, support and a healthy lifestyle.
One in five women get postpartum depression after having a baby. This can start any time from right after the birth to six months later. If a mother has untreated postpartum depression, it can cause problems for her baby. It is harder for babies to learn social skills if their mothers are depressed. The good news is that successful, safe treatments for postpartum depression exist and can be very helpful.
Symptoms of depression may include tiredness, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and trouble thinking clearly. Many women believe that these symptoms are a normal part of motherhood. However, they are not normal, and can cause serious problems for mom and baby. Knowing the warning signs and risk factors, and getting help early, makes a big difference.
Many factors can put a woman at higher risk of postpartum depression. A woman who has been depressed before or becomes depressed during pregnancy has a 50 per cent greater risk of developing postpartum depression.
Learning how to be a parent is stressful. Women who do not have much help, or who have unhappy personal relationships, are more at risk. The chance of postpartum depression rises if a woman:
Treating postpartum depression – Women with postpartum depression may have mild, moderate or severe symptoms. Treatment choices depend on how bad symptoms are and how they are affecting the mother.
Good support is essential for a mother diagnosed with any mental health condition. Support people can include her partner, family members, friends, neighbours, doctors, counsellors, and support groups. Family and friends can help with tasks like cooking or cleaning, so that the mother can focus on getting enough sleep and feeling better. Many women find it helpful to talk to someone. Even if a support person is far away, just calling to see how the mother is doing can help a lot.
Psychotherapy or ‘talk therapy’ can be very useful for moms with postpartum depression and other mental health conditions. In fact, some studies show that psychotherapy is the best treatment for a woman with postpartum depression. Psychotherapy involves one-on-one sessions with a psychologist or another trained health care professional. In these sessions, the woman learns to recognize negative thoughts or guilty feelings and to combat them. She can also find ways to deal with stress.
The most common type of psychotherapy for women with postpartum depression is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT teaches how thoughts affect mood. Women find ways to change the way they think and improve their mood problems.
Medication is another option for women with postpartum depression. Research studies show that the best medications for postpartum depression are the same ones used to treat major depressive disorder, commonly called depression. These medications are called antidepressants. They work by changing the levels of natural chemicals in the brain.
For most women, psychotherapy is the best option for treating postpartum depression, and medications are second best. However, many women benefit from combination treatment, using psychotherapy and medication at the same time.
All medications, including antidepressants, have risks as well as benefits. Women should understand that no medication is perfectly safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Studies show that for women with postpartum depression, antidepressants help improve mood, energy, concentration and other symptoms. For many, these benefits make it worth the small risk of taking medication.
If you are having problems with depression, the best way to decide about treatment is to talk to a doctor who knows you well. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and explain the treatment choices. If you decide to try medication, your doctor can give you a prescription. You will be asked to return later to ensure that the medication is helping you get better.
Often, women who are breastfeeding want to make sure that medications they take are also safe for their babies. While some medication does go into the breast milk, this does not usually cause side effects, and does not seem dangerous for the baby. Research studies show that a drug called sertraline (or Zoloft) is one of the safest medications for both mother and baby. Another antidepressant medication that has been proved safe for both mother and baby is fluoxetine (or Prozac). Your doctor can help by recommending the best medication for you.
In addition to medications and psychotherapy, it is important that women with postpartum depression or other mental health problems continue to live a healthy life. This includes healthy meals and regular exercise. It is also essential for new moms to get enough sleep.
An unusual but serious mental health condition is called postpartum psychosis. This may happen soon after the birth of a child, or up to a year later. In postpartum psychosis, the mother loses her sense of reality, and may see things or hear voices that do not exist.
Postpartum psychosis is rare. Only one out of every thousand mothers develops this mental health condition. However, it is very severe and requires immediate medical help. Sometimes a woman with postpartum psychosis must go into hospital for a while.
Often people other than the mother notice the signs of postpartum psychosis. Signs can include confusion, disorientation, paranoia (the idea that someone is plotting against her), seeing things that do not exist, or hearing voices that are not real. The woman may even try to hurt herself or her baby.
Treating postpartum psychosis – If a mother has any signs of postpartum psychosis, she needs to go to a hospital for help right away. Often, mothers with psychosis need care in hospital to ensure that they and their families are safe. Before the mother can go home, doctors will make plans with the family to make sure the mother and family will stay safe.
Symptoms of depression or psychosis after childbirth can happen to anyone. Though common, they are not a normal part of having a baby. Treatment is required so that depression does not seriously affect the entire family. Mothers should not feel bad or guilty about having these problems. It is a medical condition, and not a weakness. Getting help and support allows mothers to recover from mental health conditions after birth, and to find the happiness they deserve.