The first week of May every year is celebrated as Depression Awareness Week. In honouring that, today we’ll learn about a form of depression that many of us don’t talk about enough about, Peripartum Depression (formerly Postpartum ). Years ago I watched the famous Hollywood actress Brooke Shields talk about her struggle with postpartum depression. Instead of beaming with pride and excitement about her newborn, Shields had said that in the first few months after her daughter’s birth, she was ridden with thoughts of failure and self-harm, struggling to bond with her newborn.  As strange as it might be to understand this, it is what Postpartum depression can do. 

Expecting a baby and the birth that follows often brings a wide range of emotions. Typically we see it as a time of new beginnings, joy, excitement with a dash of anxiety and fear. Throw in the sleepless nights, frequent feeding sessions, the experience of handling a newborn, and it’s the recipe for an emotional rollercoaster ride. This seems like what you expected, but sometimes, pregnancy or the birth of a baby can also trigger something you least expected; depression.

 

What Is Peripartum Depression 

Peripartum depression is depression that occurs in women during pregnancy or after childbirth. The American Psychiatric Association says the term peripartum recognises that depression associated with having a baby often begins during pregnancy. If left untreated, peripartum depression can make it difficult for the mother to continue with daily tasks or to care for her baby. It is important to note the severity of symptoms that women with peripartum depression experience. Many women experience “baby blues” which is a mix of fatigue, anxiety, crying spells and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms generally resolve on their own, within a week or two and don’t need further intervention. However, when these symptoms persist, some women might develop a more severe and longer-lasting depression called peripartum depression. This can be treated through medication, counselling and support

Causes 

There are a lot of physical, chemical, emotional changes that accompany pregnancy and the birth of a child. Apart from this, many moms can also experience social isolation, exhaustion and psychological changes. Although the exact causes for Peripartum depression aren’t known, these factors put women at a higher risk of developing depression.

This can often leave mums feeling like they are doing something wrong as they don’t experience the typical emotions of feeling excited about their pregnancy or bonding with their baby or feeling joy over their baby’s birth. But it must be understood that this is an illness. Prompt, effective treatment is of utmost importance to manage symptoms.

Baby Blues and Peripartum Depression

Very often Peripartum depression might be mistaken for baby blues. These are general feelings of anxiety, sadness or irritability that new mothers experience. They might feel overwhelmed, have a loss of appetite and have trouble sleeping. New mothers might go through bouts of sadness, feeling cranky, sad and feel lonely. These symptoms usually begin within a few days after a baby’s birth and disappear within a week or two. These symptoms usually don’t need treatment. Support from family members, getting help with the baby, talking to other moms, having a support group can help and suffice.

The symptoms of peripartum depression however are more intense in nature and last much longer. If left untreated it can make it challenging for a new mother to care for her baby and herself and to carry on with day to day activities. These symptoms will need attention and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms :

The usual signs of Peripartum depression include

  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Lack of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

Some of the other symptoms might include

  • Feelings of self-harm
  • Not being able to bond with the baby
  • Unexplained crying spells
  • Fear of harming the baby or oneself
  • Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness

 

When to seek help :

To be diagnosed with peripartum depression, symptoms must begin during pregnancy or within four weeks of delivery. Given that a lot of changes are expected during pregnancy and after childbirth it might be hard to spot Peripartum at its very onset. However, family members who observe the symptoms or moms should seek help if

  • Symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks
  • If their depressed feelings are getting worse
  • If moms experience severe anxiety or panic almost all-day
  • If they are unable to carry on with everyday situations
  • If they have thoughts of harming themselves or the baby 

People with depression may not always be able to recognise the signs, because it feels like the new normal to them. They might also experience isolation and guilt over what they are going through. Given that they are already battling difficult thoughts and feelings, some may not acknowledge their depression. If as a friend or family member, you recognize the signs, get them help immediately. 

Treatment 

While it is a serious illness, it is important to note that it is treatable. If you experience any symptoms, reach out to your OB/GYN for guidance. Depending on the severity of symptoms, treatment can be a mix of medication, therapy and counselling. Enrolling in support groups might also be a part of the recovery plan. 

 

A good support system can help women make a smooth transition into the new demands of motherhood. It is important to get all the help you can, so you can care for yourself and your little baby. Having your family and friends around can make you feel less isolated. Considering we’re in the midst of a pandemic and need to observe social distancing, might bring additional challenges. Most new parents currently may not have the usual comfort of having relatives around to help with the baby. So think of how you can organise some help and have better support. And when things don’t go as expected and you don’t feel like yourself, seek help. Talk to your doctor so you have guidance on navigating your feelings and challenges. Peripartum depression is an illness and not caused by something that you did wrong. It can be treated so mothers can enjoy a better quality of life for themselves and their baby while enjoying the experience that motherhood brings.