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Postpartum Depression

How can I deal with the "baby blues"? The birth of my child was one of the highlights of my life. However, in the weeks since that mountaintop experience I've found myself struggling through a dark valley of depression and emotional exhaustion. Is this normal? What can I do about it?

Your experience is quite normal and extremely common. Between 50 and 80 percent of new moms are affected by a temporary emotional slump popularly known as “baby blues,” while about 10 percent suffer from a more severe disturbance known as postpartum depression. A much less common, but far more intensive disturbance described as postpartum psychosis occurs after about one in 1,000 deliveries.

Given the intense physical and psychological changes that accompany the birth of a baby, it’s actually surprising that storm clouds aren’t a part of every mother’s emotional weather in the weeks immediately following childbirth. There are many physical factors that can affect a woman’s emotions at this time, including hormonal shifts, physical exhaustion, pain, blood loss, lack of sleep, and a wide variety of genetic considerations.

Postpartum “blues,” the most common mood problem related to childbirth, usually develops during the first week after delivery.

Symptoms can include irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, insomnia, lack of energy, loss of appetite, and difficulty concentrating. While this emotional and physical slump typically resolves itself within two weeks, it should not be met with an attitude of “ignore it and it will go away.” Emotional support and practical assistance from husband, family, and friends are extremely important to any woman suffering from the “baby blues.”

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a more serious condition. It can begin at any time during the first six months after childbirth and may last for several months.

A mother with PPD may be so intensely depressed that she has difficulty caring for her baby, or she may develop extreme unrealistic anxiety over the infant’s health. While the problem can resolve itself in time, this does not mean that it should be left to run its course.

Like a major depression at any other season of life, PPD is not a problem that can be solved by just a little attitude adjustment. If symptoms continue for more than two weeks, professional help should be sought. Treatment might involve extended counseling, the use of antidepressant medication, or both. If a mother is breastfeeding, input from the baby’s doctor will be needed before beginning drug therapy. If symptoms still do not improve, psychiatric care should be considered.

If you feel you might be suffering from PPD, we’d encourage you to give our Counseling department a call. Our counselors will be happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. They can also provide you with a list of qualified Christian counselors in your area.

In the relatively rare but very serious disorder called postpartum psychosis, a woman experiences not only a disturbance of mood but also a break with reality.

The condition may include hallucinations, delusions, suicidal thoughts, and even violent behavior. Current research indicates that five percent of women with postpartum psychosis kill themselves, and an equal percentage kill their baby. Because of this risk, postpartum psychosis should be considered a medical emergency and must be evaluated immediately by a qualified psychiatrist. The condition can occur without warning, and there is a 30 to 50 percent chance that it will recur with subsequent pregnancies. The good news is that it can be effectively treated with appropriate medication.

 


Resources
Living Beyond Postpartum Depression: Help and Hope for the Hurting Mom and Those Around Her

Finding Hope in the Midst of Postpartum Depression

Referrals
OptionLine.org

Articles
Newborn Challenges

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