Postpartum Depression (PPD) has become a common topic of discussion in the media in recent years. This could be due to the many tragic headlines involving women who suffered extreme PPD; it could also be due to an increased interest in understanding the science of motherhood. Whatever the cause, PPD is a common term that most people have heard of at some point. What you may not know is what causes PPD and what the options are to help those who suffer.
What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
It’s important that we immediately differentiate a few things here: Postpartum depression is different from the “baby blues.” The so-called “baby blues” happen to the majority of women due to the huge fluctuation of hormones they endure after childbirth, as well as the sleep deprivation involved in caring for a newborn. The “baby blues” may start within days of childbirth, but usually fade within a couple of weeks.
Postpartum depression, however, can last months and even years if left untreated and is much more severe. Symptoms of PPD may include (but are not limited to):
- Sadness, emptiness, numbness, or feeling overwhelmed
- Frequent and/or unexplained crying
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of interest in hobbies and social activities
- Insomnia or over sleeping
- Extreme mood swings, including rage
- Inability to bond with baby
- Extreme anxiety over the ability to care for baby
- Thoughts of suicide and/or harming baby.
PPD may never go away if left untreated. It may morph over time, symptoms may come and go, but PPD almost never goes away on its own. It’s very important that I take just a moment to clarify one very important fact – just because PPD does not go away, and just because someone does not seek treatment for an extended period of time, does NOT mean they will necessarily hurt themselves or their baby.
It does, however, raise the question: is it worth the risk? If postpartum depression worsens over time, it could be dangerous. The longer it continues, the more negative effects it will have on the mother’s health, as well as the baby’s health, development, and the overall wellness of both. It is absolutely critical that if you think you may have PPD, please seek help as soon as physically possible!
There is also a more extreme version of PPD, known as postpartum psychosis (PPP), which is often the cause of the stories heard in the headlines. PPP includes extreme symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, violent fantasies, and uncontrollable, overwhelming mood swings. This happens to a very small percentage of women, but if you notice these symptoms, please seek help immediately.
The most important thing to know about PPD is this:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
It is estimated that anywhere from 10-20% of women suffer from PPD at some point in their lives. Women with a history of mental illness, a genetic predisposition to depression, women who are obese, and even women who give birth during certain times of the year (summer – who would have thought?!) are at higher risk than others. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors, and especially talk to your doctor if you suspect you may have PPD. Only a doctor can officially diagnose you and help you ensure you get all the necessary treatment.
There’s absolutely no shame in suffering from PPD.
It is NOT something you did, nor is it something you could have prevented.
You CAN heal and learn to bond with your baby over time.
You only need to take the first step and ask for help! Lean on those around you, especially parents and grandparents with more experience and insight. Turn to friends who have children; you may be surprised to find that they had similar experiences. Most importantly, talk to your doctor and seek help.
What are some treatments of PPD?
PPD is most effectively treated through “talk therapy,” or counseling. It may take a long time, with many visits over an extended period. It may even take some medication to help your body reach its natural balance and ability to regulate again. That’s ok! There’s absolutely no shame in taking medication. Sometimes our bodies require a little extra help, and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as you are under the supervision of a qualified doctor and/or psychiatrist.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is again one of the most common forms of treatment for any kind of depression (as mentioned in my previous article on smiling depression). CBT is a form of therapy in which the counselor helps the individual learn to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Other therapeutic tools may include things such as journaling, physical activity, learning new hobbies, asking loved ones for help.
I hope that this article has helped someone, whether they need to encourage someone else to get help or seek help themselves. Sometime in the near future, I will be sharing my journey through depression and I hope that in doing so, I will have helped someone else realize that they are valuable, they are loved, and they can heal.
As always, please reach out to me or comment below with any questions, comments, or feedback. Have a wonderful week!