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ParenTalk: Postpartum Depression and The New Parent- What, Why and How

ParenTalk: Postpartum Depression and The New Parent- What, Why and How

“I'm feeling lonely, like nothing matters. I don't enjoy being with my baby so much, am I a bad mother?” 

But you just had a baby, isn’t this supposed to be the happiest time in your life?

Such feelings of guilt, loneliness, anxiety and hopelessness, frequent meltdowns and crying spells, skipping social engagements, inability or lack of will to breastfeed and bond with the baby, insomnia and erratic appetite are few symptoms exhibited by a caregiver suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) – a serious mental health condition manifesting around childbirth, that needs to be taken more seriously. Let's have an open conversation around PPD.

Having a new life enter your world, by birth or adoption, can be an overwhelming experience. It is quite normal to feel that the world turned topsy-turvy and that you can barely get a hold on anything happening around, since the arrival of the little one. It is common for new mothers to have these emotions, termed as ‘Baby blues’ for a week or two post childbirth, usually attributed to hormones. The mood swings, anxiety and fatigue mellow down in a couple of weeks. 


But the alarm bells start to ring when these signs continue beyond weeks and months, and symptoms aggravate to a point of self-harm and inability to care for the baby. A report published by WHO stated that 22% of Indian mothers suffer from postpartum depression (PPD). This detrimental condition that involves the brain and hormonal imbalance can adversely affect the wellbeing of caregivers if not given attention and timely treatment.

post partum depression 

 

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Signs and symptoms of PPD may include:

  • Severe mood swings
  • lack of appetite
  • poor sleep
  • unexplained and excessive crying
  • withdrawal from family and friends
  • insomnia or too much sleep
  • irritability
  • feeling of being an inadequate parent and person
  • severe anxiety
  • thoughts of harming- self or baby

  

Triggers of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression may manifest into chronic depression in some cases, due to underlying triggers which could arise from:

  • Changes in physical appearance leading to body image crisis
  • Lack of support system from secondary caregivers and family members
  • Past history of mental health issues
  • Early or late maternity and issues with fertility, miscarriages and traumatic birth
  • Sudden decline in social engagements
  • Employment break and financial burden
  • Loss of a loved one or a stressful life event 

The socio-cultural environment like curbs on stepping out for certain period post childbirth and strict adherence to ritualistic diets may also affect the mental health of caregivers. Such restrictive rituals and beliefs may contribute to the severity or alleviation of PPD.

 

Can fathers have PPD? Can my elder child be effected?

Associating the condition with only new mothers is a stereotyped view which takes away from the fact that it is a common mental disorder that can affect anyone, even the father. PPD can affect caregivers, irrespective of sex. Paternal postpartum depression is real and studies have indicated its occurrence in 8-10 percent of fathers. Men may exhibit PPD symptoms differently and mostly internalize mood swings, irritability, anger and emotions like  ‘not fit for the job’ which manifest into frequent skirmishes and arguments with the partner, loss of interest in work, addiction or substance abuse and change in weight (loss/gain). These symptoms and behaviors may begin to show within a course of 1 year post childbirth. 

PPD in fathers

Besides affecting caregivers, another serious implication of the condition is detrimental affects on children of PPD patients. Studies show, infants and children of persons suffering from PPD are prone to developing conditions like ADHD, behavioral and cognitive issues and emotional fragility. PPD may begin with an individual but its long-term effects may spread in the family life and detrimentally impact other family members. 

 

Is there a cure for PPD? Who do I see for treatment?

Experts consider postpartum depression or perinatal depression an episode of major mental disorder, which can predispose to chronic and recurrent depression.. But the silver lining is that PPD is fully treatable and can be contained by taking necessary remedial actions. The biggest step is to realize is that just how we fall ill due to a cold, or a broken leg, or a burn, PPD is just that: our brain falling "ill", and needing medical attention, just like you would for a broken leg, and there is NO shame in seeking help.

A state of depression that goes beyond a couple of weeks must be immediately brought to the notice of the healthcare provider. Conditions that may seem perplexing to family members can be analyzed for the correct line of treatment by a qualified doctor. After a thorough evaluation of the symptoms, healthcare professionals and therapists may ascertain the severity of PPD and suggest appropriate lines of treatment. 

 

Some common treatment may include:

  • Talk Therapy or Psychotherapy

Mental health professionals or psychologists may take a talk therapy approach of to treat PPD. Studies have shown counseling to be an effective way of enabling PPD patients to cope with emotional upheavals and setting realistic goals. Therapists may bring the family under the ambit of counseling to get better results.  

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

 Psychotherapy may include two evidence-based approaches and therapists may apply one or both to treat PPD symptoms. CBT teaches different ways of looking at things, which enables the person to challenge negative patterns of behaviors. CBT may be applied individually or as a part of a support group that help each other by sharing similar emotions. IPT focuses on helping people to build stronger communications within relationships and help enable to develop social support systems that can alleviate symptoms of PPD

  • Medication 

PPD patients may require a prescribed schedule of mood elevators, anti-depressants and antipsychotics to treat PPD. These medications must only be taken under the supervision of a medical professional. Treatments using medicines show positive results in 6-8 weeks before results like improvement in appetite, sleep and mood lifts begin. The doctor must be consulted for tapering doses to gradually cease medications, since an abrupt stop may cause severe withdrawal symptoms

 

Outside of therapy, how can I help myself? 

Remember the Four E’s:

  • Eat Well

Intake of a healthy and high nutrient diet is the key to good health and mental wellbeing. Remember that the body has undergone a major physical and hormonal change, hence it is important to provide it with adequate refueling through a balanced diet. 

  • Exercise to gain strength 

Do not buckle down under the stress of not looking your best. The focus must be on regaining your strength and stamina. Walk, workout, or dance but sweating it out releases endorphins that in turn helps in mood upliftment. 

  • Express your emotions 

There is no better way to come out of a bad situation than seeking help. Do not shy away from talking with family and friends, someone will surely understand and come to your rescue. Communication is the key and it always works! 

  • Engage in ‘me’ time 

The new baby is indeed your world but ignoring your individual needs will not help you earn a medal for the best caregiver! You need to take out time for yourself even if it is to read a book, listen to your favorite music, attend a spa session or simply snooze. This time that you allow yourself goes a long way in keeping you cheerfully in touch with other beautiful aspects of your personality. 

 

 

We know, you're thinking "I have so much to do at home, clean, cook and do everything. No one helps me, no one understands". So, how can my family and friends help me?

The inner circle which includes- spouses, partners, family members, and friends may be the first ones to sense something is really off. If they act in time then PPD can be diagnosed and treated sooner. Any delay in handling this medical condition would harm the caregiver, baby and the family. Family members can play a crucial role in containing the damage by offering help in baby care and daily activities, providing emotional support and encouraging the caregiver to approach a health care provider. Ask for help, delegate work, get paid help if you can.

Do understand, a healthy caregiver is FAR more important than anything else. You may have lots of work at home, that makes it impossible for you to focus on yourself. But please remember, a house with toys all over it, is far better than an unwell caregiver. 

As a friend or family member of a new parent, look out for these signs. They may be asking for help and we'd never know it. If you notice mood swings and fears converting into an obsessive self-damaging behavior in a friend or family then do not make the mistake of brushing matters under the carpet. The person indeed is in serious need of help and attention and you may just be a godsend for them. Send food, do their groceries, help them wash the clothes, clean the house. Let's be good friends.

Let's be more aware of the signs of people asking for help, without words. And most importantly, let's never stigmatize asking for help, from friends, family, doctors and mental health professionals.

 

Mahek Anand 
Parent, Writer, Events Professional 
A creative person with a bohemian vibe.
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