Postpartum Depression: What is it, and who is at risk?

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Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression is a non-psychotic depressive disorder of variable severity which occurs in the first year of childbirth. It develops in a small percentage of all postpartum women and although it may occur at any time during the first year postpartum, the greatest occurrence is often seen about in the 4th week, just prior to the return of menses, and upon weaning.

Who are at risk?

Risk factors include women having their first baby, women who have ambivalence about maintaining the pregnancy, history of depression or bipolar illness, previous postpartum depression, family history of psychiatric disorders, lack of social support, lack of stable relationship with parents or partner, dissatisfaction with self, certain drugs such as some contraceptives, depressed during pregnancy, recent adverse life events (bereavement).

How do you know you are affected?

Women experiencing postpartum depression may exhibit a few or most of the signs and symptoms listed below:

  • Depressed mood – most mothers will complain of not feeling normal and experiencing mood changes.
  • Sleep disturbance – a characteristic symptom. It is important that insomnia is not due to physical discomfort or a crying baby. The woman may complain of waking early or difficulty falling asleep when she tired.
  • A feeling of being unable to cope. She feels guilty that other people are organized and she is not.
  • Thoughts of self-harm or of harming the baby. These are very serious symptoms to which serious consideration should be given especially if outwardly expressed by the mother.
  • Rejection of the baby – the mother may express giving up the baby for adoption or having no feeling for the baby.
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue and agitation
  • Obsessive thoughts, suicidal ideas or attempts, appetite disturbance

The above sounds quite disturbing, but it is very real, so the best possible approach to this condition is prevention. Women in the high-risk group, together with their partner should receive special antenatal education about postpartum depression.

Topics should include risk factors, emotional and social support and early features of the condition; also changes in feelings that occur during pregnancy and the postpartum months. Eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep and home help is of utmost importance, therefore appropriate provisions must be put in place before the baby is born.

Hospitalization may be necessary especially if attempts at suicide have occurred. Upon release, the woman and family are referred to support groups in most cases. Continued surveillance is usually done because of the tendency of this disorder to be chronic.

Many doctors advise that reliable contraception should be used to prevent unplanned pregnancies as pregnancy can heighten emotional symptoms. Unfortunately, many women have recurrences.

I encourage you to give your support to anyone you know who is suffering from Postpartum Depression as it is currently affecting many women worldwide.

Read This Next: Understanding Motherhood: Postpartum Baby Blues

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Karlene Smith is a Registered Nurse, Registered Midwife and currently studying her MSc in Nurse Anesthesia. Karlene likes to write about parenting, health, and relationship issues. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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