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What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a type of depression that you may get after having a baby. It is quite common. In fact, one study estimates 1 in 7 mothers experience postpartum depression. It is important to take note that postpartum depression affects all kinds of parents, whether you are a biological, non-biological, or an adoptive parent. It also does not just affect first-time parents. You can get it even if you did not have it with your other children.

Postpartum depression can start anytime during your baby’s first year of life. However, it is not uncommon for most parents with postpartum depression to feel its effects during the first three weeks after the birth of their child.

With parenthood, comes a lot of adjustment. Sometimes this adjustment is very stressful and poses challenges as you learn to navigate your new role. Balancing care for yourself and a newborn can be overwhelming, demanding, and exhausting. For many women, it is common to experience the “baby blues”; often described a feeling sad, stressed, anxious, lonely, tired, or weepy following the birth of their baby. The “baby blues” typically last a week or two and will go away on their own. However, if you are experiencing deep emotional pain that comes after childbirth, such as sadness, feelings of hopelessness, or guilt because you may not feel like you want to bond with, or care for, your baby; you may be experiencing postpartum depression.

What are the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression may start within 12 months of having a baby. Not every parent experiences postpartum depression the same. Postpartum depression can include any of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling down or depressed for most of the day for several weeks or more
  • Crying a lot, sometimes for no real reason
  • Feeling distant and withdrawn from family and friends
  • A loss of interest in activities (including sex)
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Feeling tired most of the day
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Having feelings of anxiety, worry, panic attacks or racing thoughts
  • Difficulty with concentration, focusing, memory
  • Feeling unable to care for your baby or do basic chores

Many parents with postpartum depression feel a lot of guilt because they believe they should be handling parenthood better. Many women describe feeling nothing- rather just emptiness and numbness, as though they are going through the motions. Some parents with postpartum depression feel like they are in a fog. It can feel as though you are living strangely apart from everyone else, almost like a wall between you and the rest of the world.

What causes postpartum depression?

The following factors are believed to increase your risk of developing postpartum depression:

  • History of depression: whether you’ve had depression before or it runs in your family
  • Hormones: your hormone levels rise when pregnant and suddenly drop once your baby is born. This quick change can trigger depression in some women
  • Stress: emotional stressors, including financial strain, job changes, illness, or the death of a loved one
  • Mixed feelings about the pregnancy
  • Changes in social relationships
  • Lack of a strong support network
  • Raising a child with special needs or an infant that is challenging to care for
  • Alcohol or drug abuse problems

If you have a history of depression it is important to let your doctor know while you’re pregnant in order to help reduce your risk of developing postpartum depression.

How to treat your postpartum depression:

It is important to know that postpartum depression is not your fault. You may feel scared to reach out for help for fear that you will be judged. However, keep in mind that postpartum depression is a medical condition that can be treated. It is important to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you are having symptoms of postpartum depression. There is no need to suffer alone- there is help out there. With proper support, you will be making positive changes that that will have a huge impact on your daily well-being.

Counseling with cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal therapy have been shown to be effective in treating postpartum depression. In both forms of treatment, you will meet with a counselor for individual weekly sessions to help reduce your symptoms of postpartum depression.

There are also some changes you can make at home to help manage some of the symptoms related to postpartum depression, such as:

  • Find time to exercise- even if it’s just walking outside
  • Surround yourself with a supportive network of family and friends
  • Eat regular, nourishing meals
  • Sleep
  • Include fun things in your day
  • Relaxation or meditation
  • Ask someone to watch your child so that you can have a break

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