One of the most significant life experiences a woman and her partner can encounter is carrying a pregnancy to term, labor, and delivery. It is a transitional period felt both physically and emotionally and these changes can have a toll on the nervous system. The birth of a child is assumed to bring abundant joy however, this is not always the case for some. Several women are engulfed in a cloud of sadness that hinders them from experiencing the joy that motherhood brings.
Feelings of sadness and anxiety can either be short term or long term. Baby blues are mood dips associated with a newborn baby and start 2-3 days after birth to the second week. Unlike baby blues, postpartum depression lasts more than 2 weeks to 1 year and beyond. It is estimated that 1 in every 7 women experience postpartum depression and the prevalence is high by at least 20% in low resource countries (WHO).
Post-partum depression might take time to manifest and often goes undiagnosed since the mothers affected are unable to speak up at first as they are afraid of being separated from their babies or worse still societal judgment. While the causes are unclear, it is assumed that the hormonal imbalance as a result of progesterone and estrogen levels drastically dropping after delivery is the cause. Sometimes, prior mental health issues and emotional issues can result in this form of depression.
Some risk factors that can lead to postpartum depression include: depletion of nutrient reserves throughout pregnancy, age, the fear of raising the child, unplanned pregnancy, financial instability, lack of a strong support system pre- and post-delivery, domestic violence, stressful life events while pregnant and a prior history of depression. The symptoms vary from worry, irritability, mood swings, overeating, appetite loss to suicide and feelings of harming the baby. In the latter instances, it is important to seek professional help.
How can postpartum depression be treated?
It is important for the mother to talk to her doctor or a mental health professional. The doctor may recommend talk therapy or medication to alleviate postpartum depression. The following lifestyle changes can be further be adopted to reduce the symptoms of postpartum depression:
- Getting enough sleep
- Finding time to exercise
- Being surrounded by a supportive network of family and friends
- Eating regular, nourishing meals
- Having others watch the child so that the mother can get a much-needed break
Postpartum depression is not a character flaw and should not be treated as one. It is important to educate ourselves so as to further empower “Warrior Mothers!”