Postpartum Depression

Post-Partum Depression
by Barbara Ostfield, PhD, and Gary Cooper

As a new mother, chances are pretty good that you will have some mood swings in the weeks and months after having your baby. About 80% of new mothers experience these "maternity" or "baby blues," which may be characterized by irritability, tearfulness, anxiety and difficulty concentrating.

You may find it hard to believe that you feel this way following one of the happiest events in your life. This confusion can cause frustration and even more emotional distress. But although you may be a bit hard to live with, the blues usually go away in two to six weeks after you have adjusted to your new role as a mother and integrated your new responsibilities into your daily routine.

Knowing you are not alone in having these feelings and why new mothers experience them can help you cope and get back to being your old self.

Pregnancy and childbirth have an enormous affect on a woman’s body. No other life event rivals it in the physical, emotional and social changes it brings. Many of the reasons for postpartum blues are psychological in nature. After the waiting, anticipation, preparation and excitement of having your baby, you may experience a bit of a "letdown" after your baby is born.

As a new mother, you are also now faced with actually taking care of all of the baby’s needs—feeding, crying, burping, changing, sleeping—and you may be overwhelmed by these new, and seemingly unending, responsibilities. Trying to determine whether your child is crying because it is hungry, too hot, too cold, is in pain or is sick can cause anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings can often lead the new mother to lose sleep and not follow a proper diet, only making the situation worse. Your hectic schedule may cause you to become isolated from family and friends, losing a valuable and much needed support network.

For a few women, the anxiety associated with this life change adjustment may also be affected by fluctuations in hormone levels. For them, medication may be required. From a clinical standpoint, only about 10%-20% of new mothers may be diagnosed as having Postpartum Depression, which, if serious enough, may render a very small percentage unable to function. If you feel your symptoms are much more serious than the "blues," it is important for the sake of yourself and your child that you talk to your physician immediately.

Researchers have been trying to develop a profile of women who might be prone to experiencing the "blues" and the more serious depression. Work continues toward that goal, but for now it is hard to predict who may be affected. A mother may experience the blues after the first baby and not after the second; may not experience it after the first, but will after the second; may not experience it at all; or may experience it with every child. So, although you will not know if it is going to happen to you until it happens, there are many "little" things you can do to chase those doldrums away.

Most important is getting plenty of sleep and proper nutrition. When the baby is sleeping, take a nap – dusting the end tables can wait a while. Eat regular, nutritious meals. Do not become isolated from other people. Put the baby in the stroller and take an afternoon walk around the park. Joggers, walkers and other children enjoy seeing babies; you will be surprised at how many people you will get to talk to just because you have a baby. Do not be afraid to call on family and friends for support and assistance. If your hospital has a new mothers support group, go to a meeting. Sharing feelings and experiences with others going through the same thing can make you feel more at ease and more secure.

And just a note for all those expectant fathers, you are not immune to the syndrome. Just as you may experience weight gain and strange cravings during the pregnancy, you may experience the blues after delivery, as well. Both parents share the same anxieties and the new father can expect to have his sleeping and eating patterns and other routines dramatically affected.

Nothing in your life will cause more commotion, worry, activity and pleasure than being a parent. Through mutual support and communication; taking the time and patience to learn how to take care of your baby; and accepting that your "mistakes" are a normal part of growing as a parent, you will become more confident, beat the "blues" and succeed as a mother and father.

Editorial provided by Barbara Ostfield, PhD, and Gary Cooper, Public Relations Manager, Saint Peter’s University Hospital, in New Brunswick, New Jersey.