Having a baby is an emotional time, including excitement, fear, joy and sadness. Unfortunately, for some women the feelings they experience are difficult to understand.
One in 10 women will experience depression during pregnancy and about 15 percent of women experience significant depression following childbirth. The percentage of women experiencing depression is even higher for those dealing with poverty and can be twice that rate for teen parents.
In fact, perinatal depression is the most common complication of childbirth. It can last for months or even years, if left untreated. New dads and adoptive parents also can experience postpartum depression. A lot of times it is difficult to identify because new moms are tired, overwhelmed or simply adjusting to life with a new baby and don’t realize it is beyond what is typical. It can be hard for new moms or family members to know what normal adjustment to a new baby is, and what depression or anxiety is. Noticing the differences can allow you to get the help needed.
Symptoms can be different for everyone, but they can occur anytime during pregnancy or the first year postpartum. The “baby blues” is the most common experience, affecting 80 percent of women after childbirth, but lasts for only a few days or weeks, and is thought to be a reaction to the significant hormone changes in childbirth.
If feelings persist beyond this time frame, it may be postpartum depression or anxiety. Symptoms of postpartum depression include tearfulness, crying, irritability or anger, poor sleep or appetite, lack of interest in the baby, loss of joy and can include scary thoughts, such as thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.
Anxiety also can be present with depression, or separate from depression, and symptoms include worries that you can’t control, racing thoughts, feeling something bad will happen, disturbances in sleep or appetite and restlessness. In addition to generalized anxiety, women can experience postpartum panic disorder. Women also can experience postpartum post traumatic stress disorder, if they have a traumatic delivery such as an unplanned C-section, their baby going to the NICU or physical complications, such as hemorrhage or cardiac disease.
Postpartum anxiety and depression should not be confused with and is not the same as postpartum psychosis, a very rare illness, affecting 1 in 1,000 births, in which women may experience hallucinations, including hearing commands to harm their infant.
The most important factor to realize with all of these conditions is they are temporary and treatable. A woman experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum is not to blame. There are many changes with childbirth, including the psychological adjustment to a new role, changes in the relationships within the family, hormonal and biological changes and environmental changes.
Depression and anxiety can be treated with evidence-based options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, a form of therapy that addresses the way you think and what you do and how that affects how you feel. Sometimes, medication is needed.
Social support, such as new mom groups or someone cleaning the house, can be very helpful. Eating healthy snacks and meals and getting some light exercise, getting outdoors and learning ways to relax, such as meditation, are other important steps. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, remember you are not to blame. You are not alone. With help, you will be well.
Sara Kenney is a clinical psychologist at CHI St. Alexius Health Archway Mental Health Services. Kenney works particularly with pregnant and postpartum mothers and is the regional coordinator to Postpartum Support International in North Dakota and Upper Midwest.
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