Having a baby can be the best time in a woman’s life – or the worst. About 10 to 15 percent of new mothers crash into postpartum depression (baby blues) and anxiety soon after giving birth. It does not matter if the birth was natural or done by Caesarian section. Postpartum depression is a serious medical emergency as many mothers suffering from it commit suicide.
Although postpartum depression is temporary, lasting from a few days to a couple of years, it needs prompt medical intervention to prevent mothers from attempting suicide. The cause of postpartum depression is unknown.
Mothers with postpartum depression feel worthless and are convinced that they are bad mothers that will eventually may harm or kill their babies. Mothers may suffer mood swings, crying spells, become angry for little reason, suffer sleep problems, feel tired all of the time and may lose their appetites. They may become withdrawn and not want to interact with their families or babies. They no longer find anything in life worth living for. Things that used to bring joy now leave the woman feeling numb.
Eventually affected women may think that they are incurable and plan to commit suicide.
Postpartum depression, like most mental health issues, is not fully understood by the medical community. There are many theories as to what causes it, though it is very likely that for most people there is no single cause, rather a combination of causes.
It’s likely that the physical changes brought on by the pregnancy and birth play a major role in causing the condition. After childbirth there are several dramatic chemical changes that take place in the body. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone can sharply drop. Some of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland also sharply decline. The thyroid hormones especially can leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
There are other physical and physiological factors at play as well. Babies, of course, require a lot of care. This means that it’s very easy for the mother to not be getting enough sleep or neglecting to eat right. Social relationships and favored activities often also have to take a backseat to the new baby’s needs. The simple stress of the new situation or change in routine can also contribute to the depression.
There is also some evidence that inflammation may be a contributing factor.
The good news is that postpartum depression is often easily treatable with antidepressant medications, mood stabilizers or anti-psychotics. If the drugs are not effective and the woman tried to commit suicide, then electroconvulsive therapy (also known as shock treatment) may be the only alternative to save the woman’s life. Some women do best with a combination of medications and talk therapy. Getting more rest and talking to new moms in person or online can help relive feelings of unworthiness. Reading books on postpartum depression helps a woman to know she is not alone and is not incurable.
If breastfeeding, your doctor may advise you to switch your baby to formula so there are no side effects from drinking breast milk tainted with antidepressants. Not all women need to stop breastfeeding when on antidepressants.
WARNING: Alcohol and recreational drugs can interact badly with medications and should be avoided. Alcohol is a depressant and can worsen postpartum depression symptoms.
As postpartum depression is likely caused by many different factors there are many different things that can help prevent it.
Exercise is perhaps one of the best ways to ward off depression. In fact there are over 25 studies showing that exercise is effective at preventing depression. The ideal amount of exercise is 20-30 minutes a day every day. But even doing that amount three times a week can cause significant improvements in mood.
There is also a growing link between proper nutrition and depression. It can be hard to eat well when there is a new baby in the home, but doing what you can to eat more fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains and reducing the amount of processed foods you eat, can go a long way towards warding off postpartum depression.
There is also an increasing body of evidence that depression can be treated and prevented with probiotics, like those found in yogurt and other unpasteurized fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
Interpersonal relationships are also a vital factor in maintaining happiness. With the new baby it can be hard to find time to connect to people. But do what you can to connect with other people. Playgroups can be a good way to connect with other new mothers.
It can also help to try to make sure you won’t have to make any major decisions or go through any other major life changes for a while after the baby is born. This will reduce your overall stress level and make depression less likely.