Postpartum Depression, Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatment

Definition of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder highlighted by episodes of major depression within the first four to six weeks of childbirth. 

The term postpartum is the period following child delivery. Depression, in this context, is defined as a psychological disorder diagnosed with signs of sadness, despair, and loneliness. Other common symptoms of depression may include self-solation, mood swings, lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns, guilt, and in extreme cases, suicidal tendencies.

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A positive diagnosis is confirmed if the patient exhibits at least five of the many associated symptoms that are constant within two weeks or more.

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (inability to stay awake during daytime despite having adequate sleep time at night)
  • Guilt; Mothers with Postpartum depression may develop guilt. This symptom is often associated with an inability to form a bond with the newborn baby.
  • Fatigue; Mothers with Postpartum depression may face bouts of unexplainable fatigue.
  • Extreme sadness and random crying episodes
  • Lack of concentration and interest during most of the day, a symptom observed with mothers who can’t finish tasks they could easily manage before childbirth.

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  • Irregular appetite
  • Irritability; patients with PPD may lash out and easily form anger unnecessarily
  • Anxiety; Mostly observed in new mothers. Anxiety may manifest when performing tasks new to them. This symptom should not be singled out while diagnosing. It is usual among new parents.
  • Suicidal tendencies; In extreme cases of PPD, the mother may experience episodes of suicidal thoughts and, in some cases, exhibit acts of self-harm. This symptom is rare and usually explained by its accompanying risk factors.

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What are the Risk Factors (Causes) of Postpartum Depression

Medical practitioners often group risk factors into three categories: Obstetric, psychological, and social/lifestyle.

  • Obstetric risk factors:

Obstetrics is things relating to pregnancy and childbirth. Prolonged periods of labor pain during delivery, emergency cesarean sections, and complications during pregnancy are risk factors for PPD. These occurrences may be traumatic for the parents and can eventually lead to postpartum depression.

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  • Psychological risk factors:

This factor is usually associated with other psychological occurrences such as a history of sexual and domestic abuse, an unwanted pregnancy, a history of depression and stress, disappointment with the sex of the baby, or maybe if the baby has physical disabilities. New parents may be overwhelmed by the experiences that come with childbirth. Difficulty while trying to latch or extreme pain during breastfeeding may negatively affect a new mother’s psychology.

  • Lifestyle and social factors:

A newborn baby usually comes with lifestyle changes for parents. Pregnancies tend to affect previous routines observed by parents. The processes involved in adapting to these changes can be a risk factor for PPD. An identified example of social factors is negative comments by society on how new mothers carry out their rearing activities. Another example of a social risk factor is a case where a child is rejected by a spouse, their family, or society, with an example of an LGBTQ couple trying to raise a family.

A lot of PPD cases go undiagnosed and undocumented. Most of them also go untreated. Recent medical studies show one in seven women in the United States suffers from PPD. Due to stigma and varying severity of the mood disorder, the majority of these women opt to self-diagnose. Many with a positive diagnosis of PPD forego treatment seeking treatment options. 

The term “baby blues” is used for cases of postpartum depression with little signs and PPD that only lasts for a short period (symptoms gradually dissipating after 2-3 weeks).

Postpartum depression is not as easy to diagnose despite the symptoms being easy to identify. The reason is that diagnosis parameter are still under research. In most extreme cases, nurses can diagnose PPD early on, sometimes even before childbirth. Such cases are often where a mother exhibits signs of depression during pregnancy. For cases of PPD developed after childbirth, it may prove hard to identify.

Do Men Experience Postpartum Depression?

Men can also develop Postpartum Depression. Risk factors that may affect women may also apply to men. Also, for couples where a woman is experiencing PPD, a man is often at risk of developing postpartum depression. Most men may find it hard to deal with some of the symptoms exhibited by the woman. For example, in a situation where symptoms include irritability and agitation due to PPD, the man may develop similar symptoms.

Can Postpartum Depression be Treated?

Postpartum depression is still being researched and is currently treated by psychiatrists that treat depression. Current trends show a considerable number of psychiatrists specializing in the disorder. Diagnosis parameters are still under study and established. 

Women sharing their experiences during pregnancies on social media platforms has been a crucial factor contributing to the demand for research. Women and couples with Postpartum Depression symptoms are encouraged to seek medical counsel from their doctors to determine the best treatment modes. Left untreated, severe Postpartum Depression could lead to prolonged periods of depression which could be risk factors for other health conditions for both parents and the baby.

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