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Pregnancy and the arrival of a baby into the world usually cause joy and happiness. But it also triggers a whole bunch of strong feelings that go from rejoicing to fear or anxiety. Such is the intensity of these emotions that, in some cases, they can lead to postpartum depression.
This state is not synonymous with weakness, nor does it mean that the person did not want to have the baby. Postpartum depression is a psychological condition that can appear after childbirth for a variety of causes. In this article, we will talk about what this disorder is, its symptoms, causes, and treatments.
Postpartum depression is a psychological condition that appears as a complex combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that occur after childbirth. According to different diagnostic manuals, postnatal depression is a form of major depression that tends to appear within four weeks after giving birth.
Although there are cases of postpartum depression in men, it is a mood disorder that affects women who have just given birth. The symptoms may appear as feelings of extreme sadness, lack of energy, anxiety, crying, mood swings and irritability and alterations in patterns of sleep and eating.
The causes are related to the chemical, social, and psychological changes involved in childbirth. Although the real link between these changes and this disorder has not positively, it is suggested that it is the main cause of this condition.
Besides, the lack of sleep, acquiring the role of mother and psychosocial and cultural factors also influence postpartum depression. Although a large number of parents experience a short period of worry, fear and even unhappiness after childbirth, this type of depression should only be taken into consideration when symptoms worsen and remain for more than two weeks.
The signs and symptoms can vary depending on the person and whether the depression is milder or more severe.
In the cases of mild depression, the symptoms last for a week or two. These include:
At first, it can be confused with baby blues. However, if the signs are much more intense and last longer than two weeks, they can interfere with the ability to take care for the baby and handle other daily tasks.
Symptoms usually appear within the first few weeks after delivery, but may also begin much later, up to six months after the baby is born. Symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
Postpartum psychosis is the most severe and rare. This uncommon psychological condition usually develops within the first week after childbirth and symptoms are even more severe than in the previous disorder.
This variety can present life-threatening thoughts or behaviors that require immediate medical attention and treatment. Among the signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis we can find:
As we mentioned, there is no specific cause of postpartum depression, but it is hypothesized that physical and emotional alterations and changes play a significant role in the appearance and development of this condition.
During pregnancy, the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone increase considerably. After giving birth, these levels suffer a very drastic fall that can contribute to its appearance.
Acquiring the role of mother, the lack of sleep and expectations or social pressure can cause all kinds of changes and emotional disturbance that can be very difficult to manage.
Anxiety about feeling responsible for caring for a newborn, the perception of physical changes associated with pregnancy, or a feeling that one has lost control over one's life are also factors that contribute to intense feelings after childbirth and lead to depression.
However, these are changes that do not occur in all women after giving birth, so it is hypothesized that some risk factors favor the onset of postpartum depression in some women and not in others. Risk factors for postpartum depression include:
Fortunately, there are different types of treatment for postpartum depression. The most effective intervention depends on the severity of the depression and the needs of the person.
Baby blues usually subsides gradually within a few days without the need for any treatment. However, recommendations for this type of depression include:
Treatment usually includes psychological therapy, pharmaceutical therapy, or both.
Psychological therapy seeks to manage emotions and feelings in the best way possible. The person receives training in problem-solving, sets realistic goals and expectations, and learns to respond to motherhood situations in a positive way.
Pharmaceutical treatment usually includes therapy with antidepressants that have a mild effect on lactation. Hence the importance of combining pharmaceutical drugs with psychological therapy.
With proper treatment, postpartum depression usually goes away within about six months since the beginning of treatment. Sometimes, however, it can last much longer and become a chronic depression, so it is important to continue treatment even if the person begins to feel better.
Finally, in the case of postpartum psychosis, it requires immediate treatment, often including a period of hospital stay and surveillance. This type of treatment includes:
Field, T. (2010). Postpartum depression effects on early interactions, parenting, and safety practices: A review. Infant Behavior and Development, 33:1–6.
Pearlstein, T., Howard, M., Salisbury, A. & Zlotnick, C. (2009). Postpartum depression. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 200(4): 357–364.