Here’s How To Deal With Postpartum Depression

The birth of a baby brings with it a roller coaster of mixed emotions ranging from joy to fear. But, one unexpected emotion could be depression. And, what's more, any new mother is susceptible to it!

By Monali Bordoloi

Here’s How To Deal With Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression should be taken seriously

“I was still in my pajamas lying on the sofa in my living room. It had been three months since we came home with the baby. The nanny we had hired to look after the baby came and placed the crying baby next to me on the sofa. I looked at the baby and then my hands impulsively touched my butchered tummy. I had to opt for a C-section to deliver the baby due to some complications. Once upon a time, my tummy had been flat and firm, and the envy of my friends. Now, it felt like a mass of fat. I was sulking over it when I suddenly realised that the baby was still crying. Oh, it was time to feed the baby again. How many times do I have to feed her? I felt like no one understood what I was going through. The nanny returned to help me feed the baby. I detested the feeding time as I had to bare myself in front of others. And the baby cried all the time.

Then, the inevitable happened. I came to a point when I could not take it any longer. The baby bit me while I was nursing her. And I lost it! I began to scream, and tears rolled down my cheeks. I wanted to escape from what my life had become, and didn’t feel like living anymore.

It was much later that I realised what I had experienced was postpartum depression (PPD) and I needed help to cope with it. Thankfully, in my case, the symptoms of PPD diminished within a couple of months, and things were back to normal. But, for some mothers, it may take longer and can be harmful to them or their babies. Anyway, today, I am a happy mom to a bubbly three-year-old.”– Moina, mother of Niharika

This narrative is the confession of a mother from Bengaluru. However, her case is not an isolated one. In fact, there are numerous mothers who may have experienced the same range of emotions shortly after giving birth.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a mental condition wherein a new mother deals with extreme feelings of sadness and anxiety, so much so that it might interfere with her ability to care for herself, her baby or her family.

In most cases of PPD, the symptoms begin to manifest a couple of weeks after delivery. Symptoms of this condition include difficulty in forging a bond with the baby, anxiety, crying spells, insomnia, loss of appetite and binge eating.

In certain extreme cases, thoughts of harming the baby or self might occur too. In such instances, immediate medical intervention is required.

According to a report, ‘Postpartum depression in India: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, by Ravi Prakash Upadhyay et al. published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017, about 22 per cent of new mothers in India suffer from PPD. This means around one in every five mothers in India is affected by PPD.

Postpartum Depression and Baby Blues

Dr Meghna Singhal, clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and a parenting consultant at ParentCircle says, “PPD is different from the ‘baby blues’ a mother experiences just after childbirth. Feeling low after childbirth or experiencing baby blues is transient and it goes away without any problem. You just need to support and understand the feelings of the new mother. However, postnatal psychosis or PPD are more serious conditions. PPD is more severe and lasts longer than baby blues. It usually occurs three to four weeks after childbirth and may last to about one year. In extreme cases, the mother and the baby could be at risk.”

We talked to Lakshmi J, a Clinical Psychologist from Bengaluru, to shed light on the warning signs of postpartum depression and the ways to cope with it.

Lakshmi says, “It becomes extremely important for the family and the spouse to recognise the signs and symptoms of PPD. To identify the warning signs of PPD and seek help is the first step towards recovery.”

Here are the warning signs of postpartum depression:

  • Feeling of sadness that may persist for weeks
  • Prolonged spells of crying
  • Mood changes wherein there is a sudden shift from being nervous to sad or irritable, and vice versa
  • Low energy levels that make it difficult to perform day-to-day activities
  • Marked decrease in interest to do activities that were enjoyable before (e.g. grooming or shopping)
  • Low interest in socialising with friends and relatives
  • Doubt regarding one’s abilities and poor self-confidence
  • Bleak outlook about the future
  • Guilt associated with not being able to take care of the newborn
  • Difficulty in bonding with the newborn
  • Changes in appetite (significant increase or decrease) that lead to changes in body weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns: increased or decreased sleep, difficulty in falling asleep, early morning awakening and poor quality of sleep

Causes of PPD

Dr Singhal says, “PPD is not caused by just one factor. A mix of biological, emotional and social factors may trigger PPD. Hormones play a major role in causing PPD. Apart from that, your diet, sleep deprivation, your relationship with your spouse – all these factors are linked to the risk of PPD. For each woman, a different combination of factors could be responsible.”

Treatment for PPD

“A majority of women do not seek treatment for PPD, as they refuse to admit having issues. Many women mistake it as a part of motherhood and silently suffer. More awareness about such mental health conditions is the need of the hour. If you know anyone with similar symptoms, encourage them to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Even your gynaecologist could help,” says Dr Singhal.

Coping with PPD

Here are some practical tips to cope with PPD:

  • Engage in activities that you value and enjoy them; that’ll help increase your confidence.
  • Reach out to a mental health practitioner (psychiatrist/psychotherapist) at the earliest, if sadness persists for more than two weeks.
  • Seek support from your spouse, family members and friends (especially in child care).
  • Delegate some of your childcare duties.
  • Try to get adequate sleep and rest.
  • Handle marital issues or other domestic problems in a peaceful manner, if they are adding to the distress.
  • Be aware of negative thoughts that affect your morale.
  • Catch yourself when you brood and try to change your mood by engaging in some activity you enjoy.
  • Avoid unhealthy coping habits such as alcohol, smoking or drug use.
  • Be mindful and focus on bonding with the baby.
  • Follow a healthy diet and exercise routine.
  • Seek tips from experts on problem-solving, time management and parenting skills.

How the family can help in the treatment of PPD

As her spouse or family member, you can be of great help when it comes to helping a new mother deal with PPD. Here is how:

  • Motivate the new mother to take up responsibilities, and appreciate and encourage her for her little achievements.
  • Talk to the mother and try to empathise with her difficulties.
  • Ensure that the new mother is getting adequate sleep. This may seem difficult but proper planning can help one achieve it.
  • Share in her household duties and reduce her workload.
  • Offer to get up at night when the child needs a nappy change or the next dose of medicine.

Even these small gestures can make a new mother feel loved and supported, and might help her in coping with the negative emotions and set her on the path of healing.

This is what Moina who successfully overcame PPD says about her recovery: “I was lucky that my husband noticed the changes in me after childbirth and took me to a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist. Initially, I resisted and found it tough to admit that I needed medical help to deal with my distressing emotions and symptoms. I was diagnosed with PPD and several treatments were suggested. Even my husband attended the sessions and helped me to deal with it. After a few sessions with my therapist, I started feeling better and good about myself. My family was initially clueless, but slowly they also came to terms with it and began to understand what PPD does to you. Their kind words helped me cope with PPD. I am glad I found my mojo back, and am now living happily with my baby and husband. And yes, I have started painting again too, a long-lost hobby of mine.”

PPD is quite common, and the best part is, with a little bit of effort and patience on the part of the new mother, and support from the family and loved ones, it is completely treatable. Remember, having negative thoughts after childbirth does not make you a bad mother. You need to seek medical help and address the issues you are facing. Take care!

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