The birth of a child is assumed to be a happy occasion for the child’s parents. There certainly can be a sense of happiness or even euphoria. But some parents face with a profound sense of helplessness, guilt, a lack of a bond with the child, or even an emptiness and wanting to run away. These persistent symptoms can interfere with a parent’s life and how they bond with their baby. They are often indicative of Postpartum Depression (or PPD for short).
Knowing what PPD is, what symptoms to look for, and what might cause PPD to occur can help new parents more quickly identify issues and seek treatment for these often life-invading symptoms. If you think you might have symptoms of PPD, it is important that you speak with a licensed counselor to discuss diagnosis and treatment options.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum Depression (PPD; also known as Postnatal Depression) is a type of depression that sets in after the birth of a child. It generally occurs throughout the first year after giving birth. In many cases, new mothers will experience PPD symptoms starting around three weeks after they give birth. This mood disorder is most often characterized by feelings of hopelessness, intense sadness, anxiety, and fatigue.
PPD is not simply a case of the baby blues. About 80% of mothers tend to experience mild and short-lived feelings of unhappiness, unworthiness, and stress. Being a parent to a new baby is difficult work, especially for first-time parents. However, PPD, these same symptoms are far more persistent and severe. Approximately 15% of new mothers experience symptoms of PPD.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
As listed in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are nine common symptoms of PPD. These symptoms are:
- An observed or subjective depressed mood for most of the day;
- Loss of pleasure or interest for most of the day;
- A change in weight (of 5% or more in a month) and/or appetite;
- Hypersomnia or insomnia;
- Observable slowing or agitation in psycho-motor functioning (speech and movements);
- Fatigue or lack of energy;
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
- Indecisiveness or problems concentrating;
- Suicidal ideas or even attempts, or recurring thoughts about death/dying.
In order to receive a clinical diagnostic of DSM-5, an individual must:
- Meet five or more of these symptoms.
- They must include loss of pleasure or interest or depressed mood
- All of them occur within the same two-week time frame.
- These symptoms must be prevalent almost every day during that time
- Also, they represent a significant change in daily functioning for the individual.
Additional criteria for diagnosis include:
- Symptoms causing severe challenges to daily living and/or distress;
- That these symptoms cannot be attributed to any medications, other substances, or physical health conditions;
- No other psychiatric disorder can account for these symptoms;
- A hypo-manic or manic episode has not occurred.
Causes of Postpartum Depression
There is no singular, universal cause of PPD. Causes are both physical and emotional in nature. A person can have PPD caused by physical changes, emotional changes, or a combination of both.
There are some known risk factors for those who are most strongly at risk for developing PPD. It is generally thought that some women are more prone to developing PPD after the birth of a child than others.
Those who are most strongly at risk might have:
- Previous experience with symptoms of depression or other mood disorders;
- Experience with PPD after the birth of a previous child;
- A family history of depression, other mood disorders, or other forms of mental illness;
- An absence or lack of support from a spouse/partner, family members, friends, or employers/co-workers;
- Experienced a stressful event that occurred during or just after pregnancy, such as the death of a loved one or a loss of income;
- Medical complications during pregnancy or childbirth, such as a premature delivery;
- Alcohol or drug abuse issues;
- Experienced mixed feelings about the pregnancy regardless of whether or not it was planned.
There are some weak risk factors as well, which include:
- Having a personality disorder;
- Postpartum hypomania;
- Low socioeconomic status;
- Giving birth before age 16;
- Birth complications.
Other Issues Related to Postpartum Depression
Women are not the only ones who experience PPD. Fathers experience symptoms as well. New fathers are even more likely to experience symptoms if their partner is also suffering from PPD.
In fact, studies show that about 10% of men across the globe undergo symptoms of PPD. While therapy for women with PPD is common, men might be less likely to get help.
Postpartum Depression Treatment Options
There are different types of treatment for both men and women with PPD.
- Most commonly, psychotherapy and/or antidepressants are the choice modes of treatment.
- Many counselors practice counseling techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It helps parents develop new or improve upon existing coping skills for dealing with their symptoms.
- Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help cope with PPD symptoms and are generally used for about six months. More severe cases or multiple depressive bouts might require longer periods of taking antidepressants. Prozac, amitriptyline, and Zoloft are thought to be the safest antidepressants for breastfeeding mothers.
Postpartum Depression in Popular Culture
Celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow and Brooke Shields have made their PPD struggles public. In 2015, actress Hayden Panettiere spoke out about her battle with PPD and some of the social misconceptions. She also mentioned especially the stigma that all mothers with PPD want to harm their children or blame their children for their symptoms.
PPD might cause feelings of hopelessness, but there is hope! If you think you might be experiencing PPD symptoms, know that there is no shame in reaching out for help. A professional practitioner can give you insight and guidance as you deal with your symptoms.
PPD is highly treatable, and many have already had success in learning to cope with their symptoms.
Images from depositphotos.com.