Got the baby blues?


Got the baby blues?

The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions —  from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect — depression. Known to occur majorly in women soon after giving birth, postpartum depression is a serious medical condition; one that can damage both the mother and the newborn, if not treated in time. Moreover, men are also known to be at risk today.

Many new moms experience the “baby blues” (usually peak around the fourth postpartum day and subside in less than two weeks) after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings and crying spells that fade quickly. But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression marked by feelings of sadness or emptiness, withdrawal from family and friends, a strong sense of failure, and even thoughts of suicide. This is postpartum depression.

On a rarer scale, an extreme form of postpartum depression known as post-partum psychosis develops after childbirth and is higher for women who have bipolar disorder.
Why does it happen?

Postpartum depression seems to be triggered by the sudden hormone changes that happen after childbirth. It can develop after the birth of any child, not just the first. There’s no single cause of postpartum depression. Physical, emotional and lifestyle factors may all play a role.

Physical changes: After childbirth, a dramatic drop in hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) in your body may contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply, which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and depressed. Changes in your blood volume, blood pressure, immune system and metabolism can contribute to fatigue and mood swings.

Emotional factors: When you are sleep deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor problems. You may be anxious about your ability to care for a newborn and may feel less attractive, or may struggle with your sense of identity.

Lifestyle influences: These include a demanding baby or older siblings, difficulty in breast-feeding, financial problems and lack of support from partners or other loved ones. The risk increases if:

You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times.
You had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy.
You have experienced stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss.
You are having problems in yourrelationship with your spouse.
You have financial problems.
 The pregnancy was unplanned or

When it hits men

Postpartum depression hits new dads too, but on a lesser scale when compared to moms. When a new mother is depressed, the risk of depression in the baby’s father may also increase. But new dads are already at risk of depression, whether or not their partner is affected.

Moreover, male postpartum depression may have more negative effects on some aspects of a child’s development. In a research study, one in ten new dads met standard criteria for moderate to severe postpartum depression. That’s a striking increase from the three to five per cent of men in the general population that have depression. The research also showed that the 14 per cent of new moms have postpartum depression. That compares to seven to ten per cent of women in the general population.

How to deal with it?

Postpartum depression can have a ripple effect, causing emotional strain for everyone close to a new baby. The already stressful, exhausting period following a baby’s birth is much more difficult when depression occurs. But remember:

depression is never anyone’s fault, and it can’t be fixed with a stiff upper lip or just a positive attitude. If you’re having trouble coping with postpartum depression in your family, it’s time you went to a professional for proper care and help.

Postpartum depression is often treated with counselling and medication.
Counselling may help to talk through your concerns with a psychologist or other
mental health professional. Through counselling, you can find better ways to cope with your feelings, solve problems and set realistic goals. Sometimes, family or relationship therapy also helps.

Antidepressants are a proven treatment for postpartum depression. If you are breast-feeding, it’s important to know that any medication you take will enter your breast milk.

If you have a history of postpartum depression, tell your doctor as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Sometimes, mild depression can be managed with support groups and counselling.

After your baby is born, your doctor may recommend an early postpartum checkup to screen for signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. The earlier it’s detected, the earlier treatment can begin.

Postpartum depression isn’t generally a condition that you can treat on your own, but you can do some things for yourself that build on your treatment plan and help speed recovery.

Make healthy lifestyle choices. Include physical activity, such as a walk with your baby, in your daily routine. Eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol.

 Set realistic expectations. Don’t pressure yourself to do everything. Do what you can and leave the rest. Ask for help when you need it.

Make time for yourself. If you feel like the world is coming down around you, make some time for yourself. Get dressed, leave the house, visit a friend, or run an errand.

Respond positively. When faced with a negative situation, focus on keeping your thoughts positive. Even if an unwanted situation doesn’t change, you can change the way you think and behave in response to it — a brief course of cognitive behavioural therapy may help you learn how to do this.

Avoid isolation. Talk with your partner, family and friends about how you are feeling. Ask other mothers about their experiences. Ask your doctor about local support groups for new moms or women who have postpartum depression.

Remember, the best way to take care of your baby is to take care of yourself first.

(The author is consultant obstetrician, gynecologist and director, Well Woman Clinic, Gurgaon)

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