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Recognizing and Coping with Postpartum Depression

Most women feel a little sad or down for a little while after having a baby. This is typically referred to as the baby blues and is completely normal.  For 10-20% of new mothers, however, the baby blues deepens into a more serious depression.  In some women, postpartum depression sets in within a few weeks, while others may not even realize they are depressed for several months.  If you are or think you might have postpartum depression, there is hope.

Postpartum depression is among the most common of childbirth complications, but it is still one of the most misunderstood, even among healthcare professionals.  The good news is it is treatable, with help.  If you think you are suffering from postpartum depression, it’s important to seek help, and keep seeking until you find it.

Many people think women with postpartum depression cry a lot.  Some women may find themselves crying at the drop of a hat, but not all do.  Depression is characterized as low mood, excessive worry, inability to sleep, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling guilty.  Postpartum depression doesn’t look the same in every woman.  Some women may even continue functioning almost like normal while struggling inside.

To someone who has never been seriously depressed, there is a stigma that a depressed person is being selfish and needs to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get over it.  If you never experienced depression before giving birth, you might even feel guilty about the way you feel.  The guilt might even exacerbate the depression.  Some women feel guilty, thinking they did something to cause the depression.  Just like you can’t just will yourself into a better state of mind, there’s nothing you did that caused your depression.

The fact is, depression is quite real and is not something you can just pull yourself out of.  It takes professional help and, in some cases, medication to help you return to normal.  If you are breastfeeding and concerned about what might pass through your milk to your baby, be sure to talk about these concerns.  There are medications that are safe for breastfeeding mothers.

There is a myth that has been played up in the media that women with postpartum depression will harm their children.  Approximately one in 1,000 new mothers will experience a very severe form of postpartum depression known as postpartum psychosis.  If you experience hallucinations or thoughts of harming yourself or your child, you may need to be treated in a hospital.  Outside of these cases, women with postpartum depression are not any more likely to harm their children than any other new mother.

It’s not clear just what causes some women to experience postpartum depression, but there is a theory that some women are simply more susceptible to hormonal fluctuations than others.  If you have a history of severe mood swings with your menstrual cycles, you may be at increased risk of postpartum depression.  Some experts believe that a history of abuse or trauma could make some women even more vulnerable to depression.  

Women who experience postpartum depression after one child may be at increased risk of experiencing depression after subsequent pregnancies, but it’s not a guarantee.  Many women are reluctant to have another child after experiencing postpartum depression once.  If you are considering having more children after experiencing postpartum depression, you need to have a plan and a support network in place.  

Other factors that may increase your risk of postpartum depression are similar to those associated with other types of depression, including trauma (including birth trauma), sleep deprivation, chronic pain, lack of support, and high levels of stress.

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