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Researchers have identified three types of postpartum depression: baby blues; postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.
Baby blues is the most minor form of postpartum depression, usually starting one to three days after delivery. Characterized by weeping, irritability, lack of sleep, mood changes and a feeling of vulnerability, it can last several weeks. It’s estimated that between 50% and 80% of mothers experience them.
Postpartum depression is more debilitating. Women suffer despondency, tearfulness, feelings of inadequacy, guilt, anxiety, irritability and fatigue. Physical symptoms include headaches, numbness, chest pain and hyperventilation. A woman with postpartum depression may regard her child with ambivalence, negativity or disinterest. Since it’s not fully understood, it tends to be under reported. Estimates of its occurrence range from 3% to 20% of births. The depression can begin at any time between delivery and six months post-birth, and may last up to several months or even a year.
Postpartum psychosis is a relatively rare disorder. The symptoms include extreme confusion, fatigue, agitation, alterations in mood, feelings of hopelessness and shame, hallucinations and rapid speech or mania. Studies indicate that it affects only one in 1000 births.
Causes and risk factors
The exact cause of postpartum depression is not known. One factor may be the changes in hormone levels that occur during pregnancy and immediately after childbirth. Also, when the experience of having a child does not match the mother’s expectations, the resultant stress can trigger depression. Studies have also considered the possible effects of maternal age, birthing practices and the level of social support for the new mother.
Women with a history of depression are at higher risk. An estimated 10% to 35% of women will experience a recurrence of postpartum depression.
How is postpartum depression treated?
Therapy, support networks and medicines such as antidepressants are used to treat postpartum depression.
Coping with postpartum depression
First, remember that you are not alone – up to 20% of new mothers experience postpartum depression. Equally important is remembering that you are not to blame. Here are some suggestions for coping:
- Focus on short-term, rather than long-term goals. Build something to look forward to into every day, such as a walk, a bath, a chat with a friend
- Look for free or inexpensive activities; check with your local library, community centre or place of worship
- Spend time with your partner and/or close friends
- Share your feelings and ask for help
- Consult your doctor and look for a local support group
If you think a friend or family member is suffering from postpartum depression, offer your support and reassurance. You may be able to direct them towards useful sources of information about postpartum depression. Easing the isolation they feel is an important step.
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Post partum depression