If you have recently welcomed a new baby into your home, you are more than likely feeling slightly overwhelmed and even fearful by your new role as mother and full time caregiver. Post natal depression is a far more severe and serious than just a case of mild depression (or baby blues) that affects up to 80% of all new mothers. The difference between baby blues and post natal depression is that the inadequate feelings and the depression lasts no more than a few days after the birth of the baby, while with post natal depression, the symptoms can last for weeks, or even months after the birth of the baby.
Studies have indicated that as many as 25% of mothers are affected by post natal depression or PPD (postpartum depression), and although a common occurrence in women, PPD symptoms can also be experienced by men, more so by first time fathers.
For all intents and purposes, becoming a parent is one of life’s most rewarding experiences, but once the joy of the event has subsided, parents will soon realise that the their newfound roles are permanent and they are solely responsible for the care of the infant, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For a so many new parents, this responsibility is frightening and can lead to depression, which coupled by the fact that the woman’s hormones and body are in a constant transition stage (for months after the birth), only adds to the feelings of sorrow.
Common symptoms of post natal depression
The most common symptoms of PPD include:
- Immense sadness. Before the birth of the child, the soon to be mom is filled with excitement and joyful anticipation, however suffering from PPD will lead to feelings of complete sadness. The slightest episode or event can cause a mom suffering from post partum depression to go off the deep end and feel that the world is a sad and lonely place to be in.
- Constant fatigue. This is a relatively common symptom with first time parents, but with PPD sufferers, fatigue is worsened and lack of sleep only compounds the problem.
- Withdrawal from social life. During the early weeks, moms are happy to stay at home to settle baby but with post natal depression, sufferers never feel up to visitor or do not want to leave home.
- Loss of interest in sex and in a lot of cases, women feel unexplained bouts anger and resentment towards their partners and their partner is unable to comfort or reassure them.
- Most women suffering from PPD report a feeling of emptiness. Where once their lives and their relationships brought them much fulfilment and happiness, after the birth, their days stretch on forever and nothing is able to bring them joy.
- Guilt. The guilt is caused by the feelings of inadequacy and the feelings of anger which the new moms feel towards their babies and their partners.
- Panic attacks or anxiety attacks and the feeling that motherhood is far too great a challenge and the continual feeling that they are unable to cope with the pressures and demands of their new role.
What are the causes for post natal depression
PPD does not have one single cause, but it is a combination of events or occurrences that eventually leads to the syndrome. Research carried out over the years has indicated that there is usually a common thread between all post natal depression sufferers, and these include:
- Mothers who choose to bottle feed rather than breastfeed;
- A history of depression before the birth of the baby;
- Single parents;
- A troubled marriage or relationship;
- An infant with special needs, or who requires additional care, such as a baby with colic or a mom with multiples;
- Financial woes;
- Little or no support from family or friends;
- If the pregnancy was unplanned.
Again, it is important to remember that there is no single cause for PPD and there have been cases of post natal depression where the new mom does not fall into any common category with other sufferers. Once the problem has been identified, there is hope and the success of treatment for PPD has given million of women around the world new hope.
If post natal depression is diagnosed early, women will usually make a full recovery and become the mothers they were meant to be. PPD is far more serious than baby or maternity blues and if depression and sadness continues without abating, parents are urged to immediately seek medical assistance and guidance. Much of the research done has shown that following a good and well balanced diet which includes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and vitamin D will aid with to alleviate the depressed feelings. It is also vitally important to talk to a trained counsellor who has a clear understanding of the symptoms and feelings experienced by PPD sufferers. There are doctors who firmly believe that PPD sufferers need to be put on prescribed medication, as this will help them to see their problems more clearly and also allow them to provide the right care for their newborn babies.
PNDSA is a South African Support Group (www.pndsa.org.za/) which provides guidance and advice to sufferers.
– Kathy Baron