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Rock-a-bye Mommy

Like an Olympic athlete who has spent years physically preparing for a life-altering event, a woman who gives birth is entitled to a certain sense of emptiness when her “big moment” is over. Priceless bundle of joy aside, for the moment the new mom feels sore, spent, exhausted and vulnerable.

So it’s no wonder that between 50 and 80 per cent of women experience the “baby blues,” which can start one to three days after delivery and last a couple of weeks. Mood swings are common during this time.

Many women, however, are stricken with more than just the blues. Postpartum depression is a deep, ongoing depression that can start anytime after delivery, even six months later, and last several months or up to a year.

Similar to other forms of clinical depression, the postpartum kind causes many new mothers to feel despondent and cry a lot. Physical symptoms might include headaches, numbness, chest pain, hyperventilation and/or fatigue. To make matters worse, mothers often feel guilty about being depressed. Women with postpartum depression can feel intense, irrational fear that they are losing their minds, or that they are unfit for motherhood. And perhaps the most alarming symptom is that the mother may feel disinterested in – or even resentful of – her baby.

Staying stuck in guilt is “a very unloving thing to do to ourselves,” according to Dr. Kelly Pryde, a parent and self-development expert in Newmarket, Ont. It also wastes a lot of energy that could be much better spent with family. Medical science has come a long way in recognizing postpartum depression as a bona fide illness, yet many women feel so ashamed of being unable to cope, they don’t ask for help.

Risk factors

No one knows the exact cause of postpartum depression, however, researchers believe it is linked to changing hormone levels. Pregnancy and childbirth, hormonally speaking, are like extreme versions of the mood swings that happen during PMS.

Women who have painful periods, have stressful events during pregnancy and delivery, are in an unhappy relationship, have very little support, or have a history of depression may be at higher risk of developing postpartum depression. Knowing these risk factors, your doctor can help come up with an effective prevention or treatment plan.

Treating postpartum depression

  • See a doctor right away. The sooner postpartum depression is diagnosed, the better the outcome. Psychotherapy has been shown to be an effective treatment, and a good alternative for women who want to avoid taking medications while breastfeeding.
  • Drop the guilt. You want to be a nurturing mother, so start by nurturing yourself. Pryde recommends this approach: “Imagine that a close friend of yours came to you with the same issues of guilt you’re feeling… what would you say to her? Try speaking to yourself in the same way you would your best friend.”
  • Enlist support – lots of it. Half the battle is accepting that it’s okay to ask for help (even mothers who aren’t depressed need to do this more often). Spend time with your partner and/or close friends and share your feelings. Easing isolation is critical to recovery from postpartum depression.
  • Easy does it. The Canadian Mental Health Association recommends focusing on short-term rather than long-term goals and building something to look forward to into every day. Even small pleasures such as a walk, a bath, or a chat with a friend can help lift a mother’s spirits.


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