Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in A Loved One
Everyone has heard of the term "baby blues," referring to a period of time when new moms feel a sense of general sadness after giving birth due to hormonal changes. This is normal and not a sign of mental illness.
The "baby blues" often pass with few issues or complications. When the symptoms experienced during this postpartum period become more severe, we begin to worry about the possibility of postpartum depression.
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Perhaps one of the most important and easily recognizable symptoms of postpartum depression that family members may notice is the difficulty some new moms may have when bonding with their new baby.
Other common symptoms of depression may also be present in postpartum depression, like
- mood swings
- feelings of worthlessness
- trouble sleeping
In some cases, more extreme symptoms like suicidal thoughts may be present.
Hormones and Postpartum Depression
PPD is most often associated with the changing hormones women experience after giving birth. Estrogen and progesterone levels rise during pregnancy. When hormone levels begin to fall, this can create side effects that bring about mood disorders and mental illnesses for some women.
However, these hormonal changes are natural, so a new mother's environment is also considered a major contributing factor to her risk of PPD. Exhaustion, stress, trouble adjusting to being a new mother could increase the risk of postpartum depression, which is why postpartum support is key to healing.
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What Is Typical Timeframe For Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is often observed within the first month after giving birth. It may last up to 30 weeks; however, this mental health issue could last years, and symptoms may worsen if untreated.
Always reach out to a health care professional (your obstetrician or gynecologist can help with PPD if you are more comfortable speaking with them than a therapist) if you feel you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder.
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When Does Delayed PPD Appear?
Delayed postpartum depression refers to PPD that becomes evident after the first year or more after new mothers have given birth. Many of the symptoms of delayed postpartum depression are the same as regular symptoms of postpartum depression -- loss of interest, fatigue, and irritability, among others.
Risks Factors For PPD
As with most mental illnesses, depressive illnesses in one's family history or a personal history of depression or other mood disorders (many are often comorbid with multiple diagnoses) can be a major increased risk factor in whether or not new mothers may develop postpartum depression.
Postpartum Depression and Breastfeeding
Studies have shown that breastfeeding may play a role in reducing the risk of PPD by lowering the mother's stress response and by releasing positive hormones as the mother and baby bond.
However, breastfeeding alone cannot eliminate the possibility of experiencing a mental illness, especially when personal or family history is involved.
Be sure to speak with a healthcare professional to see whether or not breastfeeding is still recommended while taking antidepressants. Your mental health professional may be able to help you schedule your medication around your breastfeeding.
As mentioned above, many mental illnesses may be present simultaneously (comorbidity), and mental health issues can often exhibit similar symptoms. These similar illnesses include:
Postpartum anxiety can consist of similar symptoms to that of typical anxiety. New mothers experiencing postpartum anxiety may experience racing thoughts, excessive worrying, and feelings of dread. Of course, it's only natural that new fathers and mothers would feel a sense of fear or worry over their new bundle of joy, but mental health professionals have taken this into account. If the anxiety women experience postpartum seems unreasonable or irrational, it could be a sign of a mental illness rather than typical new parent nerves.
The main difference between postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression is the lack of depressive symptoms and the overwhelming feeling of worry. As previously noted, because this is considered a normal experience for new parents (to a much lesser extent), many new moms suffering from postpartum anxiety may go undiagnosed and untreated.
Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder may not be very well known, but it can be an awful part of the postnatal experience for some women. Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, like traditional OCD, may be marked by intrusive thoughts -- unwanted thoughts of dangerous or scary scenarios or thoughts of irrational actions a person would not actually want to commit.
To combat these scary, intrusive thoughts, some new mothers may exhibit compulsive behaviors, performing actions or rituals over and over again as a way to cope or distract.
Some new parents may fear being left alone with their new baby because of these thoughts and actions. Or they may go overboard in trying to protect their new baby as a way to overcompensate for these thoughts.
Thankfully, the likelihood of being diagnosed with postpartum psychosis is low; only 1 to 2 out of 1000 women is likely to develop this mental health issue postnatally. However, those who do deal with this mental illness often have it very rough, as this is often considered to have the worst side effects and symptoms.
When battling postpartum psychosis, women experience auditory hallucinations (sometimes with dangerous messages), disorientation, erratic behavior, or mood swings. They may also experience delusional, violent, or suicidal thoughts.
Those with a higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis will likely have a history of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Family history may also play a factor. As can the total number of pregnancies women experience -- a new mother may be at an increased risk of postpartum psychosis after her first pregnancy.
Therapy For Postpartum Depression
New mothers suffering from postpartum depression, or those who suspect they may be dealing with some mental health issue, should make sure to make an appointment to speak with a mental health professional to seek advice and treatment options.
For women who experience mood disorders, antidepressants, psychotherapy, psychiatry, or support groups may be useful ways to combat symptoms to feel more stable. In some more advanced cases, cognitive behavioral therapy may be required. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that works to form new, healthier habits and coping mechanisms.
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Some experiments and studies have proven that women experience lower hormone levels as a precursor to postpartum depression, specifically lower estrogen levels. Some studies have experimented with the idea of administering estrogen as a way to treat postpartum depression, but this has yet to be adopted as among the treatment options for new moms with PPD.
How To Support A Loved One With Postpartum Depression
Family members hoping to help new mothers suffering from postpartum depression remember that they will require a lot of emotional support. Encourage an appointment with a health care provider to determine proper treatment options.
Offering help, making plans, and remember not to support her decisions rather than criticizing them and comparing them to other parents' choices. Giving new moms time for self-care or just allowing them to talk through their feelings can also be an immense relief.