Postpartum depression is a form of clinical depression affecting predominantly women after childbirth. The prevelance of the condition is disputed because its severity varies greatly, but it is thought that as many as 80% of women may experience it in some form or another following pregnancy.
What causes it?
Causes of postpartum depression may be linked to various factors such as a family history of the condition, mental health problems before the pregnancy or in association with a previous one, miscarriage or stillbirth and other external influences such as lack of support from family and friends.
Often, however, it is linked with hormonal changes in the body. Many women experience what is known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in the days leading up to their period, which may prompt mood swings, tearfulness and sleeping and eating irregularities. These hormonal changes are not dissimilar to those taking place during puberty, menopause and pregnancy.
Estrogen, progesterone and cortisol levels fall dramatically within the first days following childbirth before reverting back to normal. A woman’s sensitivity to these changes may trigger depression.
How serious can it get?
Mild depressive episodes after delivery are known as the “baby blues“ and are experienced by many women. This is not thought of as an illness as it is linked to the aforementioned hormonal change in the body and usually subsides within the space of 2 weeks.
Depression can ensue if symptoms persist and can develop into postpartum psychosis, a serious mental condition.
What are the symptoms?
Women experiencing the “baby blues“ are able to care for their child as normal but can:
- Feel sadness and anxiety
- Have problems eating and sleeping
- Experience mood swings and tearfulness
If depression ensues, other symptoms may occur, including:
- Feeling overwhelmed by looking after the child
- Exhaustion and frustration
- Doubt and guilt
- Experiencing an aversion to the baby and having thoughts of harming it
Postpartum phychosis is the most serious of these disorders and can potentially lead to dangerous behaviour. Women suffering from this ailment can often become out of touch with reality due to hallucinations and psychotic episodes and are most likely to harm themselves or their child.
How is it treated?
Mild forms of the disorder often go away of their own accord or are treated with psychotherapy and counselling. There is also a variety of effective medication available to combat the illness if it becomes serious.
Image attribution: Wikimedia File:Postpartum baby2.jpg