For many women, the experience of giving birth is one of excitement and renewed purpose. However, for women who struggle with existing or undiagnosed mental health conditions, peripartum or postpartum depression (PPD) can rear its head.
In the presence of a newborn infant, there’s an expectation of a lack of sleep and energy. However, support systems must be attentive to additional cognitive and behavioral shifts that take place in mothers. Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or emptiness that last longer than two weeks should raise questions and hopefully spur intervention.
Through increased awareness of PPD symptoms and treatment resources, we can ensure that the mental health needs of new mothers and children are being met.
According to the CDC, PPD occurs in 10-15% of new mothers. However, some argue this may not be an accurate indicator cross-culturally, since many communities may under-report due to mental health stigma, perceptions, and levels of access. In addition, it does not factor in aspects of biological vulnerability.
An even more elusive experience of depression can occur during pregnancy. Before the child is even born, mothers undergo a plethora of mind and body transitions. Hormone changes are commonplace, bringing on fatigue, mood swings, forgetfulness, and trouble sleeping.
Because mothers are expectantly hormonal and sometimes “off” during pregnancy, symptoms of a more serious mental health issue may be brushed off.
About 60% of women with depressive symptoms do not receive a clinical diagnosis, and 50% of those who are diagnosed don’t receive any treatment.
The adverse effects of untreated PPD not only impact mothers, but their babies too. For mothers experiencing peripartum depression, it can result in significant deficits of child’s development in the womb and post-birth.
When PPD goes untreated, mothers can struggle to bond with their baby and in some cases may develop intentions to harm themselves or their child.
Susceptibility for PPD is elevated for young mothers and women who encounter partner-related stress and/or abuse. This coupled with the expectation that mothers should seamlessly transition into a maternal role is a recipe for emotional disaster.
Recognizing the signs (as cited by womenshealth.gov)
While most women experience the “baby blues” for up to 5 days after birth, spouses and support systems should take heed to recognize and appropriately address the signs of PPD:
Feeling restless or moody
Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
Crying a lot
Having thoughts of hurting the baby
Having thoughts of hurting yourself
Not having any interest in the baby, not feeling connected to the baby, or feeling as if your baby is someone else’s baby
Having no energy or motivation
Eating too little or too much
Sleeping too little or too much
Having trouble focusing or making decisions
Having memory problems
Feeling worthless, guilty, or like a bad mother
Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Withdrawing from friends and family
Having headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems that don’t go awa
In order to protect new mothers, children, and families, we must advocate for their mental and emotional well-being. Mothers suffering from PPD do not have to suffer in silence.
If one or more of the aforementioned symptoms occur within 1 year of childbirth and persist for more than 2 weeks, contact a doctor, nurse, midwife, pediatrician, or mental healthcare professional.