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.
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.