They say that childbirth is an experience that changes a woman’s life forever, and for the better. Unfortunately, unconditional love, fulfillment, soul-deep empathy, sense of belonging, and pride are not the only emotions the stork’s arrival can trigger: as many as 10-15% of all new moms fall prey to postpartum mood disorders (PPDMs).
PPDMs encompass both the harmless short-lived baby blues and serious psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and even psychosis. However light it may appear to be at first glance, PPDM shouldn’t be ignored: failure to detect the changes in a new mom’s frame of mind and address them timely can be potentially dangerous to both herself and her child. Here’s a brief overview of most common PPMDs and their usual symptoms, causes, and recommended treatment.
Baby blues or PPD?
Baby blues and postpartum depression (PPD) may look alike to an unknowing eye, but they are definitely not the same thing. Unlike PPD, baby blues affect about 80% of new mothers and are mainly caused by hormonal instability. Mood swings typical of baby blues set in within 3-5 days after delivery: in this period, new moms often feel sad, benumbed, lonely, irritated, or angry, and are prone to crying spells. Baby blues usually last from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the time required for the organism to restore hormonal balance after childbirth. If mood swings persist for over a couple of weeks, however, they can be a symptom of PPD.
PPD: Symptoms of a silent mood killer
PPD is far less common than baby blues, and it afflicts 10-20% of new moms. If left untreated, PPD can stretch to a year or more, which is why recognizing the telltale signs is so essential. The symptoms of PPD are similar to those of clinical depression, the only difference being that they become manifest after delivery. Common signs of PPD include:
- feelings of guilt, sadness, hopelessness, anger, impatience, confusion, irritation, helplessness;
- bouts of uncontrollable crying;
- lack of energy, motivation, and interest in everyday activities;
- problems focusing;
- memory glitches;
- sleep problems;
- chronic fatigue;
- withdrawal from friends and family;
- drastic appetite and mood changes;
- chronic headaches, pains, and stomach problems.
In some PPD cases, new moms exhibit signs of excess preoccupation with the child’s wellbeing. Some of them may also experience problems bonding with the newborn, a sense of isolation from their partner, family, and friends, or intrusive thoughts of harming the child or themselves. If the symptoms persist and/or intensify gradually, the mother, her partner, or family should seek the assistance of a mental health expert. Psychological counseling is usually the most efficient remedy for PPD, but therapists often recommend antidepressants and hormone medications for serious depression cases.
Postpartum anxiety and OCD
Just like PPD, postpartum anxiety and OCD usually occur within 12 months after childbirth and the condition is highly treatable granted timely diagnosis. Postnatal anxiety and OCD symptoms include:
- racing and/or uncontrollable thoughts;
- excess cleaning;
- constant worry and tension;
- disturbing and/or frightening thoughts;
- fear of inflicting harm to the newborn or oneself;
- fear of being alone with the baby;
- panic attacks;
- headaches, nausea, stomach problems;
- lack of appetite;
- problems sleeping;
- fear of going crazy;s
- fear of rejection and judgment.
Birth-related traumatic stress disorder
Some women also experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after delivery. Birth-related PTSD is manifested by obsessive thoughts, emotions of numbness and detachment, nightmares, painful flashbacks, anxiety, sadness, irritability, and panic in the vicinity of the spot where the delivery occurred. Psychological counseling is an efficient remedy for post-natal PTSD, but in serious cases, the psychotherapist may recommend hypnotherapy as an adjuvant therapy.
Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare and affects only about 0.1% of new mothers. It usually occurs in the first 2-3 weeks after childbirth, but its onset is often so sudden and intense that the patient may require immediate hospitalization until her condition stabilizes. The symptoms of postpartum psychosis include refusal to eat, frantic restlessness, paranoia, memory loss, utter confusion and incoherence, delusions, hallucinations, irrational statements, preoccupations, and actions, and even attempts at hurting oneself or the child.
Additional PPMD risk factors
PPMDs are mostly triggered by birth-related hormonal misbalance, lifestyle changes and intense stress caused by the transition to the role of a mother. Still, other factors can also contribute to PPMD, such as a previous history of mental problems, genetic predisposition to depression and mood swings, lack of emotional support, abusive partnerships, domestic violence, financial uncertainty, and altered body image.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above-mentioned problems, contacting a mental health professional is not just advisable – it is essential. New moms shouldn’t hesitate to voice all their private concerns, fears, and insecurities during regular medical checkups because timely detection is the most efficient remedy for all birth-related mental issues. New moms looking to lose baby weight fast can ask a nutritionist to recommend a balanced weight loss diet for their individual condition, whereas moms ashamed of postpartum belly flab can decide to undergo a skin tightening procedure, body contouring, or tummy tuck surgery.
PPDMs shouldn’t be taken lightly or used to pass judgment of a woman’s mental fortitude: even ladies with nerves of steel have their private insecurities and concerns which can become more pronounced after delivery. Don’t judge a new mom by her whimsical mood – instead, try to understand her and provide her with the support, love, and care she needs and deserves. And if you’re a new mom in need of a tad more tender, love and care, don’t be afraid to reach out to your loved ones: you’re already doing a great job by coping with the transition. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a normal element of responsibility to both yourself and your child.