According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), it’s not uncommon for women to get the “baby blues” during the first eight to ten weeks after delivering. “Mothers with the baby blues will often contact their care providers one or two weeks after giving birth complaining of sadness and difficulty taking care of their newborn,” says Alan Lindemann, MD, co-author of Modern Medicine: What You’re Dying to Know. “Some express guilt over feeling like they’re not being a good parent. Some may be having trouble breastfeeding their babies.” Baby blues, ACOG claims, resolve on their own. If depression continues after eight to ten weeks, it is called postnatal depression.
“When postnatal depression is not addressed, the new mum becomes a suicide risk,” says Dr. Lindemann. “When the depression continues to deepen from lack of treatment, the mother enters the stage of postnatal psychosis. With psychosis, the lives of her children are at risk. In the United States, between 70-80 percent of women experience the ‘baby blues,’ and an estimated one in seven women experience postnatal depression in the first year after birth.”
Clearly this is a serious issue that needs to be spoken about more openly, so that women can take a proactive stance. There are in fact a few things that we can do to help beat postnatal depression and it’s very helpful for women to familiarize themselves with them, ideally before giving birth.
Below Dr. Lindemann outlines his top tips for battling postnatal depression.
Secure a diagnosis.
“The first step in treatment is diagnosis. In the more than 6,000 births I’ve facilitated, none of my patients came to bodily harm due to postnatal depression or psychosis because I implemented checkups within the first two weeks — not six, as insurance companies deem necessary. In the absence of a proactive postnatal checkup plan from your doctor, however, it is crucial that you set up a plan yourself. Talk to your care providers, your partner, and trusted loved ones and create a checkup system for your first six weeks after birth, and throughout the first year.”
Commit to counseling.
“Work with your obstetrician to connect with a psychiatrist right away. In my experience postnatal depression can be greatly mitigated by simple and timely access to care for the problem.”
Be open to medication.
“When baby blues become postnatal depression, the priority must be helping you break free from this debilitating and dangerous state. Medication is a reliable way to achieve this. Once postnatal depression is diagnosed, treatment involves counseling and taking serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) medications such as Effexor or venlafaxine. SNRI medications motivate and promote happiness and comfort. Mums are not only less depressed, but also feel like taking care of their new baby.”
Know the difference between battling postnatal depression and postnatal anxiety.
“Anxiety is the most common psychiatric disorder and women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with it. If you historically suffer from anxiety, you are likely to need strategies to deal with it and keep you and your baby happy and healthy during and after your pregnancy. Onset of new/pathologic anxiety during or directly following pregnancy is not common. Communicate with your care provider if this is your experience so someone can get additional support as needed. General anxiety or nervousness about caring for your newborn, navigating new sleep patterns, and all the other postnatal concerns new mothers face is very normal and does not in and of itself require treatment.
Fathers can suffer from postnatal depression as well.
“Dads can easily feel left out or like a fifth wheel when a new baby arrives. Although dads do develop postnatal depression, it is hard to identify because in our culture men are not supposed to talk about their feelings. So the onset of postnatal depression in men usually starts later and has a longer recovery time. I always welcomed my dads to attend office visits, deliveries, even c-sections. This helps bonding with the new baby and encourages the dad to take part in the child’s care, all important in preventing postnatal depression. The father of the quadruplets I delivered told me he figured out he had changed 7000 nappys a month. He was engaged in the daily care of his family which is critical to avoiding postnatal depression in men as well as women.”
Know the risk factors.
“In my 40 years of experience, I have found mothers to be at risk if they experience one or more of the following:
- A history of depression: if the mother has experienced depression at any point in her life, but particularly during her pregnancy, she is at a higher risk because women with a history of depression are more susceptible to hormonal changes.
- Pregnancy/delivery complications: this includes premature delivery or having a child with medical conditions.
- History of substance abuse: postnatal depression directly correlates with prenatal substance abuse. It can affect sleeping, eating and cognitive issues in the mother and even in the baby while in utero.
- Intimate partner conflict: it’s pretty consistent to find that women in conflict with their partner or who don’t have reliable social supports are at risk.”
Bottom line: “Many new mothers don’t even realise that they are depressed. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a partner or other support person commit to checking in on you and watching the signs of postnatal depression. If you do find that you are suffering from any of these signs or symptoms — particularly if you are several weeks past giving birth — seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you are unable to get an appointment with your physician, try your community hotlines for depression.”