Postpartum Depression – a depression that affects mothers

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The birth of a baby brings so much excitement to couples. It is also a moment of great joy to many people; there are lots of gifts and well wishes from relatives and friends. Everyone just wants to have a peep at this new delicate and adorable human! But do you know that the birth of a baby can also trigger something you might not expect? Depression!

Dr. Chidinma Ohachenu, a clinician at Medifem Multi-Specialist Hospital and Fertility Centre, says this form of depression is known as Postpartum Depression. “It’s quite usual to see women have mood changes during the first few days after delivery. Although new moms may go through this mild behavioural change, commonly referred to as ‘baby blue,’ postpartum depression presents a rather severe behavioural or mood change in a woman. It can prolong for months after childbirth,”  Dr. Ohachenu said.


Symptoms of Postpartum Depression 

According to Dr. Ohachenu, postpartum depression may interfere with a mother’s ability to care for her baby and other daily tasks. She stated that the only way to detect postpartum depression symptoms is when new mothers are experiencing more than one of these: frequent mood swings, emotional feeling to the point of shedding tears, difficulty bonding with the baby and isolating themselves from family and friends.

Other symptoms include: Loss of appetite for food (or eating more than usual), difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much, strong fatigue or loss of energy, loss of interest and pleasure in activities once enjoyed, and feeling irritated and angry over trivial situations. “Mothers who experience postpartum depression tend to feel they are not good mothers. They can have low self-esteem, have low concentration and thus may be unable to think clearly to make decisions. At other times too, they have severe anxiety and panic attacks, and have thoughts of harming the baby or thoughts of committing suicide,” Dr. Ohachenu added.


Causes of Postpartum Depression

The cause of postpartum depression can be as a result of physical and emotional issues or changes in the body. For instance, a drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in your body may contribute to postpartum depression. A sharp drop in hormones produced by your thyroid gland can also leave you feeling tired and depressed. Postpartum depression can be triggered by emotional changes due to the loss of a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth. “When you’re sleep deprived for a long time, when you strongly feel less attractive about yourself, or feel that you’ve lost control over your life, these are scenarios that can build up to postpartum depression,” Dr. Ohachenu stated.


Risk Factors of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression doesn’t stop after your first birth; it can happen again in future births as well. There are some risk factors which can predispose a mother to postpartum depression. The risk factors are: a previous history of postpartum depression, family history of depression or other mood problems, stressful situations during the past, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss. Other risk factors are if; baby health problems or other special needs, difficulty in breast-feeding, relational problems with a spouse, a weak family support system. Having financial problems, or the mere fact that the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted, can mount a lot of pressure on the mother leading to her being depressed.


How common is postpartum depression?

Dr. Ohachenu explains that it’s common to see women experience “baby blues” – feeling stressed, sad, anxious, lonely, or tired – following their baby’s birth. She said unlike the baby blue mood swing which goes away in quite a short time and can be easily managed, postpartum depression on the other hand takes a longer time, and may be difficult to manage. “Cases of postpartum depression are minimal compared to baby blue cases. Research shows that one in 5 or 7 women who have just given birth are likely to experience postpartum depression months after childbirth,” she said.



For a proper diagnoses of postpartum depression, your doctor will first do a physical exam by gathering detailed information on your personal and family health history. During this examination, women should feel free to tell or share information, especially about feelings of baby blues with the doctor. Dr. Ohachenu noted that “the diagnosis stage is very important so that a useful treatment plan can be created for you.” As part of the examination, the doctor may take a blood sample and test for a possible underactive thyroid which may be contributing to the signs and symptoms, or carry out other tests, if need be, to rule out other causes.


Postpartum depression treatment

It’s very important that mothers learn to restrain from feeling bad about their condition. Having postpartum depression doesn’t mean you are a bad mother. The good news is that “postpartum depression can be effectively managed and treated,” Dr. Ohachenu said.

Postpartum depression can be managed and treated through effective counseling by clinical psychologists. Another way of managing it is the use of antidepressant medications, which includes Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), Venlafaxine (Effexor), etc. New mothers with a milder depression may be able to get better with counseling alone. But many others need both. Moms can still breastfeed their babies while taking prescribed antidepressants.


Advice to mothers

According to Dr. Chidinma Ohachenu, some women may not be aware that they are showing signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. She said postpartum depression is a serious condition and should not be treated without a doctor’s supervision. “If you suspect that a friend or loved one has postpartum depression or you personally are showing such symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.” It’s also very important to eat healthily, do some exercise every day if possible, and get as much sleep as possible. Also ensure you have the needed support from family and friends.


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