Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a disease that occurs in some women after childbirth which can affect their thoughts, emotions, and relationships. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one million women suffer from postpartum depression each year in the United States.

Many women experience mood swings after having a baby and this can be normal to some extent. At any time during the day, for example, a new mother can experience a variety of emotions, ranging from happiness to sadness, for example, and mild difficulties with concentration or sleep can occur. These symptoms appear when a mother is suffering from what is known as the “baby blues.” However, when such symptoms are severe in intensity or last more than a few days (usually more than 10 days), it is suspected that the mother could be suffering from postpartum depression.

Symptoms of postpartum depression may include:

•Sadness
• Frequent crying
• Agitation, irritability, or anxiety
• Loss of interest or pleasure in life
• Loss of appetite
• Loss or unexplained weight gain
• Loss of energy and motivation to do things
• Difficulty falling asleep, remaining asleep, or sleeping more than usual
• Feeling worthless, hopeless or guilty
• Feels that life is not worth living; suicidal thoughts or intentions
• Showing little interest in the baby

It is important to note if a woman is displaying one or more of these symptoms, as these are signs of serious difficulties. When this happens, in many cases a mother cannot care for her baby or herself without medical treatment and intervention. Nonjudgmental support of family members and friends is essential as well. Postpartum depression is a serious illness which needs medical treatment; not a passing mood which a mother can simply “snap out of.”

In especially severe cases, a mother may develop postpartum psychosis. In postpartum psychosis, a mother loses touch with reality. Even though many mothers with this condition realize that something is wrong with them, less than 20% talk about it with a doctor or a mental health professional. However, postpartum psychosis is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation as the mother not only has symptoms of postpartum depression but can also have thoughts or plans of harming her baby. It is essential in such cases that the mother receive medical treatment and mental health care immediately in order to protect not only her child, but also herself, from harm. Family and loved ones may have to step in to see that a mother in this situation receives help immediately; calling emergency services to take her to the hospital.

The following questions can help determine whether you (or a new mother you know) may be suffering from postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis:

• Do you feel sad frequently and cry easily?
• Are you experiencing changes in your sleep or appetite?
• Do you feel exhausted or overwhelmed?
• Have you lost interest in things you once enjoyed before?
• Have you lost interest in caring for your baby?
• Do you have difficulty completing everyday tasks?
• Are you experiencing nervousness or panic attacks?
• Do you have trouble concentrating or making decisions?
• Are you experiencing hallucinations (i.e., such as hearing voices others cannot hear; seeing things others cannot see)?
• Do you feel like hurting yourself or harming your baby?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, seek professional help. An evaluation of a mental health professional is your best option. He or she can tell you what to do. Do not wait.

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