“How can one go into depression after having a baby? Isn’t this the moment/phase they have been waiting for?” were my thoughts when I heard about Post Partum Depression(PPD) for the first time. After becoming a mother a lot of your perception of life changes and all that your mom has been doing for you or telling you suddenly starts making more sense. Like our famous Bollywood Movie dialogue”Ek aurat hi dusre aurat ka dard samajh sakti hai”. I suppose I couldn’t really get PPD well until I myself became a mommy. Not that I went through it, not necessarily every mommy goes through it, but yes Postpartum blues are extremely common amongst new parents. Feelings of worry, fear, unexplained sadness, guilt, self-doubt are a few examples of mood swings that one develops in the postpartum blue stage. While postpartum blues( baby blues) last only for few weeks, PPD is an extended version of such feelings that are more intense and continues for a longer period.
Surprisingly, no one really talks about it. When I got pregnant, from Nani’s and dadi’s to young working mothers, everyone had some or the other advice for me during pregnancy and childcare afterbirth. They even had pieces of advice for how there would be physical changes in me and ways to deal with it but none of them spoke about the mental aspect.
Depression in our society has a strong social stigma which refrains people from talking about it even if they are going through it or observe someone having it. To top it, if one gets into depression after having a child, they might just be tagged as a bad parent, as they are supposed to be happy now.
But there is no need for the guilt as it may not be under your control. Birth of a child brings a lot of changes in the life of the parents, whether social, financial, emotional and not to forget majorly hormonal(in case of mothers). It might be just overwhelming to deal with all of it. Baby blues are thus developed in the first few days after childbirth. But if it seems a long never ending phase, it might be Post Partum Depression. If you think you or your loved one are going through it, please seek medical help. But lets first understand when to seek or provide help and how to diagnose this PPD.
Whats PPD / Identifying PPD
Postpartum Depression(PPD) is a type of depression that occurs after childbirth. It is a common disorder that can occur within a year after having a baby. PPD is often confused with ‘baby blues’ which usually occurs after childbirth as you try to adjust and make changes for the new life. This period is found little stressful by the parents leading to the baby blues that last up to 2-3 days. But if this phase continues to last for more than 2 weeks and tends to get worse each day, then it is likely to be a Post Partum Depression. It can affect both the parents, but mothers are at a higher risk due to hormonal changes in addition.
Let us learn about few symptoms and ways to diagnose it
- Feeling too low or sad continuously
- Feeling guilty or ashamed
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Not interested in connecting with people or outside world
- Not interested or unable to take care of the baby
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping less or excessive sleep
- Feeling exhausted/overwhelmed
- Feelings of hurting self or the baby
If you or your loved ones, tend to display any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks of delivery, make sure you make an appointment with any Mental Health Service.
So what causes this Post Partum Depression(PPD)
Many a time parents might be aware of such feelings/symptoms but they feel ashamed or guilty to admit it. However, PPD is caused due to a combination of hormonal, genetic, emotional and environmental factors that are beyond one’s control.
Certain parents are at a higher risk of developing PPD if they had:
- History of depression
- Anxiety or depression during pregnancy
- Lack of support system
- A stressful event during pregnancy
- Unplanned unwanted pregnancy etc.
So how is this PPD actually treated?
Treatment of PPD is very much similar to the one given in clinical depression. Talk therapies or antidepressant medication or a combination of both may be given depending on the severity of the condition. In talk therapy, the counselor may have a one on one session with the patient or group sessions with other parents facing similar experiences. At times, talk therapy may involve the family members or spouses for helping the patient come out of depression.
If the symptoms seem more severe the therapist might also start you with antidepressants. These medicines tend to regulate your mood by balancing the chemicals in your brain. These antidepressants may have certain side effects and if they tend to interfere with your routine activities, make sure to talk it out with your therapist.
When both talk therapy or medications do not seem to work and the symptoms tend to get more severe in rare cases an ECT can also be suggested by your therapist.ECT is an electroconvulsive therapy in which small electrical currents are passed through the brain of the patient under general anesthesia.
How safe would it be to take medications while breastfeeding?
It is considered safe to take antidepressants while breastfeeding as the amount of medicine that passes through breastmilk to babies is very low. Although few studies have shown that breastfeeding mom’s on antidepressants may tend to have babies that are slightly irritable or have difficulty during feeding or sleeping. Untreated depression of breastfeeding moms can have a similar effect on their babies. So rather treat it.
Is treatment really important if its a common condition?
You may never know when the stage can get so progressive that treatment becomes harder in the later phase. Early treatment is always better, especially as its the time you need more support and help. Also if treated early, you will be able to take care and bond with your baby in a much better way.
Apart from taking clinical help, here are few important things you need to do in order to cope with it.
- Accept: You may be aware of your condition but feeling hesitant/shy to express or even accept the situation. Remember, “ it’s absolutely OK to be NOT OK sometimes.”
- Be kind to yourself: While trying to take care of your baby and family, make sure you do not neglect your own health. Get enough sleep, food and rest. Don’t forget that you will be able to give your family enough only if you are in a good state physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Ask for help: It’s absolutely fine to ask for support from your partner/friends or relatives. Having a baby increases your responsibilities two folds, which you might not always be able to handle alone. Also, your body and mind undergo drastic changes due to the hormonal shift postpartum, that might leave you drained further. Try to figure out where you need help and feel free to ask for it, whether for cooking, babysitting, visiting the doctor etc.
- Talk it out: Share your feelings, concerns, emotions with your loved ones. You may choose to open up to your partner, your friend or people with experience like your mom or a group of mommies of newborns. They might also be able to help you with advice to handle the new changes in your life and make you realize, that you are not alone.
- Go Slow: You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. You don’t need to do all the dishes, clean the house, take care of the baby, wash the clothes all at once. Do things at your own pace and capacity. Prioritize things, remember the most important thing is to be at peace mentally and in good health physically.
- Love yourself & your life: You have received the God’s greatest gift in the form of your child. Be grateful, not everyone is as lucky as you are. Love yourself, your life your child. Make some time for yourself too. Pamper yourself by taking a bath, dressing up and going out for a walk. Give some fresh air and sunshine to yourself and your baby. Shop for clothes/accessories for yourself along with baby shopping. Do things that make you happy.
If you think you or your loved one is having PPD, don’t ignore it, seek/provide help and support. After all, we are all one, so let’s help each other.
It’s just a phase, this too shall pass.
Alpana Tarkar, is a Clinical Nutritionist with a Post Graduation in Nutrition & Dietetics having 9 years of experience in the field. She is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a mother as well. She has helped many people improve their medical profile & believes in achieving a healthy body & mind through minor changes in the daily routine. Her mantra for fitness is “Make healthy eating a treat to your taste buds and exercise time your fun time, results will follow effortlessly”.