Sometimes depression appears at an unexpected moment. This condition is usually triggered by traumatic or negative life events. Unwelcome or unexpected change of some sort overwhelms our defenses and we spiral into a major depressive episode. But in the case of postpartum depression (PPD), the trigger is rarely unexpected and usually welcomed. The birth of a baby follows nine months of intimate nurturing in the womb and represents a new beginning of life. However, some women find themselves struggling with postpartum depression.
The symptoms are very similar to clinical depression. They include restlessness, anxiety and sadness. Feelings of guilt, a lack of motivation and energy, and an overwhelming sense of worthlessness are common. Symptoms can be so severe that some mothers find it difficult to care for or bond with their new baby.
Sometimes postpartum depression is not immediately diagnosed because it has many symptoms in common with pregnancy. New mothers are typically fatigued, don't sleep well and suffer from lack of energy whether they are depressed or not. It's important to determine whether additional symptoms of depression are present as well.
Postpartum depression is also easily confused with what many call the “baby blues. " This is a short period of low mood that many women experience after childbirth. The difference is that these feelings go away after a few weeks. If symptoms worsen or persist longer than a couple of weeks, a doctor should be consulted.
Postpartum depression is caused by radical changes in hormone levels. During pregnancy, levels of estrogen and progesterone are greatly increased. After childbirth (as well as miscarriage and stillbirth), these hormone levels quickly return to normal levels-often in as little as 24 hours. This rapid drop can trigger depression. In a few cases, thyroid hormones drop after childbirth as well. Low thyroid hormone levels can also cause symptoms of depression. This can be determined with a blood test and treated with medication.
This condition responds well to treatment. Like other types of depression, it is treated with a combination of counseling and antidepressants. If you are breast-feeding, make sure your doctor takes this into account when prescribing. Meanwhile, make sure to get as much rest as possible, exercise a little every day and eat well. Support from friends and family will help too.
It's important to keep in mind that postpartum depression is not your fault. The feelings that it brings don't make you a bad mother. But severe cases can affect your ability to give your child the best care possible. So don't delay seeking treatment. Get the help you need and you will quickly return to enjoying life and enjoying your new baby.
Written by Jan Howard
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