Post Partum Depression - a Bundle of Joy not Without Tears

By: Juliet Cohen

While the birth of a new baby is a happy occasion, many women experience post partum depression within two years after the birth of a baby. Although 80% of parents have what is called "baby blues," which is characterized by occasional tearfulness and feeling overwhelmed, these moods are temporary, and are not actual post partum depression. The symptoms of post partum depression are quite similar to those of regular depression, except that post- partum depression deals with the specific circumstance of having a baby. While it is said that some men experience post partum depression as well as women, 5 to 25% of mothers will experience post partum depression at some point of their lives. Those who have a history of depression or are in certain circumstances are more likely to experience post partum depression than other mothers. There are many treatment options available for the problem, but women who are breastfeeding may not be able to take certain medications. Doctors may prescribe alternative treatments.

The signs of post partum depression are similar to other types of depression. Sadness is a symptom but it is not like ordinary sadness or moodiness. Negative thoughts become obsessive and are characterized by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. The mother feels as if she is trapped, and at the same time, experiences unjustified guilt feelings and low-self esteem. She may sleep very little or excessively, and her eating patterns may change dramatically. She may neglect personal hygiene and have a feeling that she may harm herself or her baby. It is very important that a woman who is suffering from post partum depression seek help immediately, and that close family members are alerted to the problem. It is essential that a baby bond wit his or her mother at an early age, and since post partum depression can interfere with bonding, a mother should seek treatment for the problem.

Just the circumstances involved in having a baby can set a woman up for post partum depression, especially if she has a predisposition for depression or a history of the problem. Since babies often wake up in the middle of the night and demand constant care and attention, the extreme pressure and sleep deprivation takes a toll on a woman who might already be vulnerable. Other factors such as an absent spouse, a recent divorce, financial strain, and alienation from relatives increase the likelihood of post partum depression. It is for this reason that a support system for a new mother is essential for her health and the health of her baby.

Some women have traumatic births that give them symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as well as post partum depression. If the mother is suffering from a trauma, she might have flashbacks to the event or nightmares, may dread discussing it or returning to the place where she gave birth. She may feel alienated from her infant as the result of her trauma. This form of post partum depression is quite serious, and may require that someone else, like a spouse or a parent, take over the role of primary carer of the baby while the woman received the help she needs.

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