The birth of a child can be a joyous and exciting time, but following
childbirth, some women may experience postpartum disorders that can
adversely affect a woman’s mental health. Mothers commonly experience
what is called “the baby blues,” mood swings that are the result of high
hormonal fluctuations that occur during and immediately after
childbirth. They may also experience more serious mental health
disorders such as postpartum depression, birth-related post-traumatic
stress disorder, or a severe but rare condition called postpartum
In general, clinical depression occurs in approximately 15 to 25 percent of the population, and women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. Because women are most likely to experience depression during the primary reproductive years (25 to 45), they are especially vulnerable to developing depression during pregnancy and after childbirth. Women who develop these disorders do not need to feel ashamed or alone; treatment and support are available.
Postpartum blues are very common, occurring in up to 80 percent of new mothers. Characterized by mood swings, postpartum blues or “baby blues” are normal reactions that many mothers experience following childbirth. The onset of postpartum blues usually occurs three to five days after delivery, and should subside as hormone levels begin to stabilize. Symptoms generally do not last for more than a few weeks. If a person continues to experience moods swings or feelings of depression for more than two weeks after childbirth, the problem may be more serious.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a major form of depression and is less
common than postpartum blues. PPD includes all the symptoms of
depression but occurs only following childbirth. Symptoms of PPD may
include specific fears such as excessive preoccupation with the child’s
health or intrusive thoughts of harming the baby. Given the stressful
circumstances of caring for a new baby, it is understandable that new
mothers may be more tired, irritable, and anxious, but when a new mother
is experiencing drastic changes in motivation, appetite, or mood she
should seek the help of a mental health professional. For a clinical
diagnosis of postpartum depression to be made, symptoms of PPD generally
must be present for more than two weeks following childbirth to
distinguish them from postpartum blues. PPD can begin any time after
delivery and can last up to a year. It is estimated to occur in
approximately 10 to 20 percent of new mothers.
The causes of PPD are not quite clear but research suggests that the following factors may contribute to the onset of PPD:
Taking antidepressant medication may help alleviate the symptoms of PPD
and should be combined with ongoing counseling with a therapist trained
in issues surrounding childbirth. Studies show that some antidepressant
medications have no harmful effects on breastfeeding infants.
Psychotherapy alone may also be used to treat PPD. New mothers should be
encouraged to talk about their feelings or fears with others.
Socializing through support groups and with friends can play a critical
role in recovery. Exercise and good nutrition may improve a new mother’s
mood and also aid in recovery. Caffeine should be avoided because it can
trigger anxiety and mood changes.
In most cases PPD is preventable; early identification can lead to early treatment. A major part of prevention is being informed about the risk factors and the medical community can play a key role in identifying and treating PPD. Women should be screened by their physician to determine their risk for acquiring PPD. Because social support is also a vital factor in prevention, early identification of mothers who are at risk can enable a woman to seek support from physicians, partners, friends, and coworkers.
After childbirth, women may also experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD includes two key elements: (1) experiencing or witnessing an event involving actual or threatened danger to the self or others, and (2) responding with intense fear, helplessness or horror. Symptoms of birth-related PTSD may include:
In rare cases, women may experience postpartum psychosis (PPP), a condition that affects about one-tenth of 1 percent of new mothers. Onset is quick and severe, and usually occurs within the first two to three weeks following childbirth. Symptoms are similar to those of general psychotic reactions such as delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (false perceptions), and often include:
A woman who is diagnosed with PPP should be hospitalized until she is in stable condition. Doctors may prescribe a mood stabilizer, antipsychotic, or antidepressant medications to treat postpartum psychosis. Mothers who experience PPP are highly likely to suffer from it again following their next pregnancy.
Source: Mental Health America