Postpartum Depression

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a treatable medical illness characterized by feelings of sadness, indifference, exhaustion and anxiety following the birth of your baby. It affects one in every ten women who have had a child, and can affect any woman, regardless of her age, race or economic background. It is not a character flaw or sign of personal weakness, and it does not mean that there is anything wrong with your ability to be a mother. The exact cause of postpartum depression is not known, but certain chemical changes that take place in your body during and after pregnancy may contribute to it.

It can be hard to talk about feeling depressed after having a baby, because of our society's belief that this should be the "happiest time in your life." If you are suffering from postpartum depression, the time after you give birth feels anything but joyful. You may feel as if you aren't a good mother, or that the baby would be better off without you. These feelings may make you feel ashamed, and you may feel that you should hide them from your family and friends. However, it is important that you tell someone, whether it is your health care provider, a family member, friend or clergy member, and that you seek help. You can feel better, and getting treatment early is the best thing you can do for yourself, your baby and the rest of your family.

What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?

  • Feelings of sadness or "down"-ness that don't go away
  • Inability to sleep, even when the baby is sleeping
  • Changes in appetite eating much more or much less
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Inability to enjoy things you used to; lack of interest in the baby; lack of interest in friends and family
  • Exhaustion; feeling "heavy"
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • Fear of being a "bad" mother, or that others will think you are
  • Fear that harm will come to the baby
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or harming yourself
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Get help right away if you have any thoughts of harming your baby or yourself. Tell a medical professional, clergy member, loved one or friend immediately.

What are some risk factors for postpartum depression?

  • A history of depression during or after previous pregnancies
  • A history of depression or bipolar disorder at any time
  • A history of depression, bipolar disorder or postpartum depression in blood relatives
  • Poor social support
  • Unpleasant life events happening around the time of the pregnancy or birth
  • Instability in your marriage or relationship
  • Feeling unsure or ambivalent about your pregnancy

What can I do about postpartum depression?

  • Talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms, your medical history and any medications or "natural" remedies you are using.
  • Consider taking medication ask your doctor which medications are least likely to pass into breast milk.
  • Consider psychotherapy find a therapist or counselor with whom you feel comfortable, who can help you cope with the feelings you are having.
  • Do your own research to learn more about postpartum depression and its treatment at your local library or on the internet.
  • Become part of a support group, where you will be able to share your thoughts and feelings in a caring environment with people who have "been there."
  • Eat balanced meals at regular times.
  • Do light exercise, such as walking.
  • Work with a therapist or counselor to develop stress reduction techniques.
  • Give family and friends opportunities to help you, such as doing housework or watching older children.
  • Use a journal to express your thoughts and feelings, and record changes in your moods.

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