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Baby blues? Dear moms, postpartum depression is not your fault

Depression after childbirth, referred to as postpartum depression, is far more common in India than popularly believed, and can be easily treated with counselling and medicine.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 08, 2017 19:16 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
New Delhi
Postpartum depression,Depression after childbirth,What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum disorders can take the form of blues, depression and psychosis, with the symptoms usually beginning the first few weeks after giving birth.(Shutterstock)

What can possibly make a mother want to kill her baby? Postpartum depression, said the Mumbai High Court last week in a historic judgment that acquitted a 26-year-old new mother for attempting to kill her newborn twice, before abandoning him near a scrap heap. “She was incapable of realising the nature and consequences of her act… She did not know that it was wrong,” said the Mumbai High Court Bench while accepting her counsel’s insanity plea.

Postpartum disorders can take the form of blues, depression and psychosis, with the symptoms usually beginning the first few weeks after giving birth. A few may develop it later, sometimes even six months after birth, and are completely out of the mother’s control.

The mood changes happen because of the sudden drop in the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, and the thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) immediately after birth. Add to that looking after a baby while juggling chores and you have mothers feeling lost and out of their depth.

Depression after childbirth, referred to as postpartum depression, is far more common in India than popularly believed. Worldwide, around one in 10 women get depressed immediately after giving birth, but the numbers of new mothers affected in India ranges between 15.3% and 23%, estimates the National Mental Health Survey 2015. Of them, around 16% – one in six new moms – continue to have symptoms six months after delivery.

If the symptoms of postpartum depression last for more than a couple of weeks, the mother should seek social and medical support. ( AFP/iStock )

The symptoms, which may last from a few days to a week, include mood swings, tiredness, sadness, crying irritability, feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns – women begin eating and sleeping too much or too little. If the symptoms last for more than a couple of weeks or are overwhelming enough to make them withdraw socially, affect their ability to care for themselves or the baby, or take their anger out on the baby, they need social and medical support.

The signs of postpartum psychosis – a very rare condition that usually develops within the first week after delivery – are even more severe and include paranoia, confusion and disorientation, hallucinations and delusions, and attempts to harm the self or the baby. Since it can quickly trigger dangerous thoughts and behaviour, treatment is a must.

What keeps most women from seeking help is often the embarrassment and shame they feel about not being good mothers. The pressure to be the perfect mother is immense, so many new moms hesitate to recognise or acknowledge that they are not, so it’s imperative for the family to closely look for signs of depression.

Depression in parents can also have a ripple effect, causing emotional strain for everyone close to a new baby. Parental depression, however mild, during the first years of parenting also raises the toddler’s chances of developing troubling behaviours, such as hitting, lying, anxiety and depression during the most critical time of a child’s development, reported a study in the journal, Couple and Family Psychology. Children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression also more likely to have sleeping and eating difficulties, excessive crying, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and delays in language development.

The study shows new dads also get depressed after childbirth, with a man’s risk of depression after the birth of a child being greater than at any other time in his life. This study found that dad’s moods also influence his child’s behaviour during toddler years. In fact, parental depression affected a child’s mood and behaviour far more than parents fighting.

Children get affected because depression changes how people express emotions and interact with others. Depressed parents make less eye contact with their child and don’t smile as much as other parents. The more disengaged parents are in their child’s formative years, the more trouble the child will have in forming close attachments and developing social skills.

Apart from the obvious risk of recently giving birth, what raises risk are a personal or family history of depression or mood stability disorders, postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy, stressful events such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss, if the baby has health problems or other special needs, marital or family conflict, poor family, social financial support, unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

What mothers need to know is that if you’re not as happy as you are expected to be after having baby, it’s not your fault or the baby’s. It’s a biological change, much like high blood sugar, that can be easily treated with counselling and medicine.

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First Published: Apr 08, 2017 19:15 IST