Most mothers suffer through a negative gradient of mood and well-being just after the baby is born. They can experience mood swings, inadequate sleeping patterns, improper nutrition and a lot of other physiological changes and psychological issues. This, however, is a fairly common phenomenon and is popularly called the ‘baby blues”. Baby blues generally last for a period of few weeks, till the mother finally adapts herself to the baby and designs a lifestyle around it. However, there are other deeper, more severe factors lasting for quite a long period, and often goes unnoticed leading to a condition called ‘Postpartum Depression’.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a chronic condition which involves more than just the occasional crying and feeling miserable – it is a feeling of worthlessness which leads to a withdrawal from a normal healthy lifestyle into a silent, brooding one; sometimes even accompanied by suicidal tendencies.
- Excessive crying without any known reason
- Difficulty in bonding with the baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Loss of appetite/overeating
- Hopelessness and uncertainty regarding one’s mothering capacity
The main concern here lies in realizing the time when it becomes essential to seek professional help. An estimated answer to this can be if the symptoms last for more than two weeks and are progressively worsening, induce thoughts of self-harm or of harming the baby, and creating hindrance in one’s ability to do everyday tasks, then it is suggested to seek immediate medical help.
There can be several underlying causes to the development of this condition, not all of which can be identified. Research has shown some common causes found in a large number of women diagnosed with PPD.
During pregnancy, a female body has high levels of Oestrogen and Progesterone hormones, which drop sharply after delivery. This sudden drop in hormones has adverse effects on the mind and body and often leads to declining moods. Other causes may include low Thyroxine levels, sleep deprivation, inadequate diet, drug and medical misuse, etc.
What are the consequences of PPD?
PPD, when neglected or left untreated, can have disastrous consequences, both short term and long term. Many mothers emerge from PPD episodes on their own, however, their full recovery may not be guaranteed in such cases. They might even face its recurrence in other forms later in life, which can harm their child’s development and also lead to rifts in essential social relationships.
It is not something one can ‘snap out’ of by simply thinking more about their children or devoting more time to them. Suicide is the second most prominent cause of deaths among new mothers.
The societal pressure of being a ‘good mother’ and hence, not being able to share their concerns or feelings of gloom regarding their child makes it difficult for mothers to vent out, thus leading to the deterioration of their mental health.
One such loss is narrated by author Sneha Kohli Mathur to CNN, where she talks about how one of her close friends, who was always cut out according to the societal definition of a good prospective mother, eventually committed suicide. The mother, shortly after giving birth to her son, fell into the abyss of self-blame and convinced herself that she was a complete failure as a mother and may cause her son to harm in the future. This led her to think that her son and family are better off without her and thus she gave up her life. It, indeed, is an extremely sad story, but it isn’t rare either.
Findings from research conducted by Maude Johansson, Ylva Benderix, and Idor Svensson, showed that the mothers expressed their parental stress concerning internal requirements about their children, their families, and the domestic situation. They described their well-being as going into a downward spiral, feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for their families.
On the other hand, most fathers expressed stress in their parental role concerning shared parenthood and the demands of working life, as well as when the child was sick or if meetings delayed. These were all stressful matters, but coping with childcare restrictions was especially so.
PPD isn’t something which only mothers undergo. Paternal Postpartum is again, a quite common phenomenon, but is seldom talked about due to the mental health stigma attached concerning men.
New fathers may feel constantly sad or fatigued, overwhelmed, anxious, or stray away from their usual eating and sleeping patterns. Young fathers, have a history of depression, have relationship problems or are struggling financially, run the highest risk of falling prey to this condition. Their partner suffering from PPD can also trigger the same in them due to a shared emotional and psychological overload. Treatment and support involve similar approaches as given to mothers who undergo it.
“New fathers can also take advantage of the baby’s check-ups to talk with their child’s paediatrician about feeling overwhelmed. For new fathers who are feeling more desperate or in urgent need of help, support is available through employee assistance programs at many workplaces or national hotlines,” said Brodsky on Healthline Parenthood.
How to deal with it?
All said and mentioned, it is important to know how to combat this menace. On a personal level, we must pay heed to the mental health of the parents as often as we do with babies. All their concerns and achievements should be given due importance, no matter how irrelevant they might appear. The mother should be made comfortable by providing her with a safe space to vent all her worries irrespective of the societal constructs spun around women and motherhood. Any behaviour which shows a negative shift from the normal should be discussed and further encouraged to seek professional help or advice if required.
Being surrounded by other experienced parents provides a huge support system. Introduce the mother to things she had always loved and notice her attitude towards them. These can provide huge cues to what might be going on in her mind. In the end, assure her that she will be a good mother, no matter what. All she needs to do is love herself first so that she will have a lot of love to give to her baby and thus, lead a happy and healthy life with her loved ones.
- Graphics: Delisha Sequeira
- Editing: Aarushi Kapoor
- Everything you need to know about Postpartum Depression – Healthline Parenthood (https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/postpartum-depression#causes)
- Postpartum Depression: A family hopes that their loss will help others – CNN Health (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/25/health/postpartum-depression-womens-health-wellness/index.html)
- Postpartum Depression – Mayoclinic.org (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617)
- Mothers’ and fathers’ lived experiences of postpartum depression and parental stress after childbirth: a qualitative study- US National Library of Medicine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7034451/)