EXCLUSIVE: Postnatal depression can be so serious that a mother may even try to harm her baby: Experts
Postnatal depression or PPD is a reality. Many mothers are not able to identify the signs, and this may result in progression of the symptoms. Experts tell you more.
Frequent episodes of crying, unexplained mood swings, anger, depression, and sometimes, a feeling of being worthless and unappealing. Who would understand this better than a woman who has just given birth? While many dismiss this as normal, and because of the massive changes that your body has gone through, experts have a specific term for this, postnatal or postpartum or peripartum depression (PPD).
While it usually goes away after 4-6 weeks of delivery, in some people PPD may stay for even longer and may turn severe where it requires immediate medical intervention.
“Postpartum depression, also called baby blues, develops after delivery. The mother usually has a feeling of hopelessness, inadequacy, excessive crying, lack of sleep and is unable to feed the baby. This is more common in women with a history of depression before pregnancy or those with a history of anxiety or panic attacks. Sometimes the condition can become so severe that the mother may unknowingly try to harm her baby,” says Dr. Ritu Sethi, Senior consultant, Gynecologist, Cloud Nine Hospital, Gurugram and Apex Clinic, Gurugram.
Some experts also suggest that those who suffer from postpartum depression are at a greater risk of developing depression later in life. “It’s slightly possible, if PPD is not treated correctly and on time. However, even with treatment, PPD can make you more likely to have episodes of depression in the future,” opines Dr. Shweta Sharma, Clinical Psychologist & Founder, Mansa Global Foundation for Mental Health.
While you may ask how to find out if one is suffering from regular episodes of anxiety or PPD, Sharma has an answer. “It is different from just a regular episode of anxiety in the way that it is emotionally and physically debilitating and may continue for months or more. To diagnose peripartum (formerly postpartum) depression, symptoms must begin during pregnancy or within four weeks following delivery,” says Sharma.
The signs include:
Feeling sad constantly.
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
Changes in appetite.
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
Loss of energy or increased fatigue.
Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to stand still, pacing, hand-wringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others).
Feeling worthless or guilty.
Difficulty in thinking, concentrating, or making decisions.
Thoughts of death or suicide.
Lack of interest in the baby, not feeling bonded to the baby, or feeling very anxious about/around the baby.
Feelings of being a bad mother.
Fear of harming the baby or oneself etc.
What is even more alarming is the fact that the Indian families specifically don't have proper awareness about PPD, and how they should be paying equal attention to the new mother, if not more, as much as they give to the newborn.
“Family members completely indulge in the joy of childbirth and usually miss early signs of PPD in the mother. Many people deal with signs and symptoms as usual after-effects and don’t show much interest in it. It’s directed to the motherhood taboo also, i.e., mothers are more potent than anything else and have the ability to deal with any situation. Similarly, mothers also ignore their self-care and hesitate to accept early signs, and usually end up blaming themselves as weak or failed mothers,” explains Sharma.
In order to manage it and prevent it from turning severe, experts say, we need to check the causes of the condition properly. Usually, this happens due to hormonal imbalance, age at the time of delivery, baby blues, heredity or history of mood or anxiety disorder, family conditions, and marital discord, and accordingly, treatment is required. “Treatment options include anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and participation in a support group for emotional support and education,” says Sharma.
Sethi adds and tells you that to manage the symptoms all the new mothers should avoid the stressors which aggravate the underlying depression. “Adequate sleep after delivery, proper diet, nutrition, and family support is a must. Avoid negativity at all costs. If it’s still not controlled, one may need counselling or in severe cases medication also,” concludes Sethi.