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August 7, 2007 > Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression

Submitted By Anne Chan, M.S., MFT

A newborn baby - cuddly, cooing, and cute - what could bring more joy to one's life? However, many (if not most) parents can attest to the fact that a newborn baby is not just a bundle of joy, but is also a bundle of round-the-clock needs and demands. My own experience as a mother was a rude awakening - no one warned me of the months of severe sleep deprivation and total exhaustion that accompanies a baby.

There is no question about it: the demands on a parent of a newborn can be emotionally overwhelming and physically challenging. It is no wonder that mothers can suffer from postpartum depression or the baby blues, even though the world tells them they should be overjoyed with their little bundles of joy.

Depression before, during, and after pregnancy is actually quite common, in part because of the huge hormonal changes that women experience during these times. Other factors that may predispose a woman include feeling a loss of identity, having little or no physical and/or emotional support, sleep deprivation, feeling a loss of control, having no time for oneself or having a family history of depression.

There is a difference between the "baby blues" and postpartum depression. Women with baby blues might experience some of the above symptoms, but these normally disappear within a few days to a week after onset. The "baby blues" usually occur right after childbirth, unlike postpartum depression which can happen even months after childbirth. The key difference between the two conditions is that postpartum depression is much more severe and prevents the mother from functioning well for a longer period of time. If your baby blues are lasting for more than two weeks after childbirth, you may be suffering from postpartum depression.

One or more of the following symptoms might indicate that you have postpartum depression: being afraid you will hurt the baby or yourself, having no or little interest in the baby, feeling sad, hopeless, irritable and/or overwhelmed, feeling low energy or motivation, eating too little or too much, crying a lot, sleeping too little or too much, experiencing difficulty concentrating, feeling worthless and guilty, having little interest or pleasure in normal activities, wanting to withdraw from family and friends, and having suicidal thoughts.

The good news is that postpartum depression is an extremely treatable condition. Here are some steps you can take to alleviate or prevent postpartum depression: It is critical that you get enough rest. Nap when the baby does. If the baby is keeping you up nights, try and get some sleep during the day. Ask someone to watch the baby so you can have a few moments of rest. Don't worry about dirty dishes or laundry piling up. These chores can wait. It is absolutely vital that you get some rest. This is so important that it bears repeating: don't worry about chores, get some sleep - even a tiny catnap can be restorative.
Ask for help from your spouse, family members, and friends. Taking care of a baby is a 24/7 marathon - you need a break from time to time! Join a support group of new moms or talk with other moms. Seek help from sympathetic moms who can understand what you're going through. If other moms are not sympathetic, seek help from those who are compassionate.

Ask for help with cooking, cleaning, and other household chores. Don't feel that you have to be "supermom" and do everything. Join a support group for moms with depression. Spend time alone with your family and loved ones. Take a break from the baby now and then - this is not only okay, it can be life-saving!

Exercise - getting out of the house and taking a short walk can be very beneficial to your physical and mental health. Get counseling with a therapist experienced in this condition. Antidepressant medications can be helpful in some cases. Not all women with postpartum depression need to take medications; however, these medications are beneficial for some.

There is truly no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about having postpartum depression. Depression does not mean that you are a bad mom or an unfit parent. In fact, having the baby blues or postpartum depression is not unusual - it is estimated that more than 50% of mothers experience the blues after childbirth. Even stars like Brooke Shields have suffered from postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is a heartbreaking condition because it not only causes suffering for the mother; it also affects the rest of the family as well. It impacts the baby and rest of the family because it hurts the mother's ability to be an effective parent. Mothers who have this condition are understandably less involved with their babies and partners. Researchers believe that postpartum depression may affect the babies' ability to bond, learn, sleep, and be soothed.

Postpartum depression can hit unexpectedly and hit hard. Please remember that you, your baby, and your family need not suffer needlessly. Get help as soon as possible if you are experiencing this condition or if someone you love is showing the signs of postpartum depression.

Anne Chan is a licensed psychotherapist and career counselor in Union City. She can be reached at achan@midlabs.com or 510-744-1781.

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