A child’s birth is a time often filled with great anticipation, excitement and joy as a family welcomes the new little person and is filled with hope about all the possibility inherent in a new life.
Unfortunately, for some mothers this joyful experience can turn into a nightmare when they sink into depression, anxiety or even psychosis.
By now, most people are aware of the existence of postpartum depression—a condition that can affect up to 15 per cent of new mothers. But sadly there are still many who don’t want to talk about it openly. Societal expectations surrounding motherhood often place unspoken pressure on women to bury negative feelings and many don’t seek help even when they need it.
January is postpartum depression awareness month and I thought a fitting time to revisit this important topic.
Pregnancy and the postpartum period are times when women are most vulnerable to develop or relapse into mental illness. Extreme changes in hormone levels can affect brain chemistry as well as most other body systems and often trigger symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Of course the tremendous life change, disrupted sleep and stress of becoming a parent can also increase susceptibility to a mood disorder.
As a result of all of these factors, most women experience mild mood symptoms after giving birth. These can include sadness, weepiness, lack of concentration and moodiness. This is not considered a disorder though because symptoms are mild and subside in a few days.
For those who develop full blown postpartum depression, symptoms can be much more severe and require treatment with either therapy, medication or a combination.
Depression can come on gradually and may begin at any time during pregnancy, immediately following delivery or within the first year of motherhood.
Risk factors include previous postpartum depression, personal or family history of depression or other mental illness, a difficult pregnancy, high levels of stress, depression or anxiety during pregnancy, mood changes while taking birth control or fertility medication or social isolation.
Screening questionnaires and doctor interviews during pregnancy can help to identify those at risk and ensure support systems are in place before a crisis develops.
It is important to note that postpartum depression is an illness. It is not a product of a weak character or the fault of the mother. Counseling, medication and social support are all important factors in treating this condition and with help, depressed mothers recover well and can expect a happy, normal life.
Most important, if you or someone you love is experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, seek help. Not only will support and treatment help the affected mother, but it can also help to keep children safe and happy. Untreated, maternal depression can have a profound negative effect on family relationships and the healthy development of children. Help is available.