Understand the Source of Postpartum Depression
Mothers typically look forward to the pleasures of their new baby eagerly. Yet, many mothers don’t experience their wished-for joyous first weeks and months with their newborns at all. In fact, most mothers experience at least some mild sadness, tearfulness, anxiety or sleep interference in the first few weeks after giving birth. We call these common reactions “baby blues.”
Usually rest, support, time and falling in love with their infant are more than sufficient to help new mothers quickly recover good feelings. However, about 10-20 percent of the time those baby blues continue and may even worsen into a condition called postpartum depression.
There is no one cause for postpartum depression. Generally, many influences combine for each affected mother. Physiological factors such as lack of sleep and hormonal changes can play a role. Prior susceptibility to depression and family tendencies to experience depression are other factors.
Working mothers could be reacting to being out of the workforce for a period of time. On deeper psychological levels, motherhood can revive unresolved issues about the mother’s own childhood experiences. The mother’s support system may also affect the likelihood of depression. And, of course, general life stressors such as monetary and housing worries can help postpartum depression take hold.
Some women immediately recognize that they are depressed, either because the symptoms are so evident or because of prior experiences with depression. Other women do not easily recognize that they are depressed.
Typically, mothers suffering from postpartum depression experience a combination of some of these symptoms.
* Decreased energy beyond what would be attributable to lack of sleep.
* Difficulty sleeping beyond the interference of the baby waking you.
* Decreased appetite.
* Guilty feelings and self-accusations.
* Low mood and crying spells.
* Loss of pleasure and enjoyment.
* Withdrawal and feelings of isolation and despair.
* Significant anxiety.
* Thoughts of harming self or even baby.
* Minimal interest in baby.
It’s essential that mothers experiencing postpartum depression seek help. They need and deserve it. Also, we know that infants whose mothers have been significantly depressed are at a much higher risk for many kinds of psychological difficulties. Infants need a vital, engaged mother in order to thrive. As a first step, a mother should reach out to close friends and loved ones for as much physical and emotional support as possible, including breaks from her infant. Mothers should also obtain as much sleep and rest as possible. Keeping life as simple as possible can help, as can support groups. Most of all, mothers experiencing postpartum depression should seek professional help. Medications can be useful in many situations. Short-term, focused psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy can provide relief from depressive feelings.
The Lucy Daniels Center’s staff encourages many mothers with postpartum depression to consider whether they should make an even more ambitious effort to understand the sources of their depression. Exploration with a therapist, although a greater investment, can provide many mothers an opportunity for growth in areas where the birth of their baby has activated psychological vulnerabilities. In such situations, mothers can view their postpartum depression as a signal for personal, unresolved issues they need to pay attention to, and can ultimately use this signal as a way to grow — not just in resiliency to depression — but in many other basic aspects of their lives.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.