Postpartum depression is characterized by a range of physical, emotional and behavioral changes that many mothers experience after childbirth. Feelings of despair and worthlessness often accompany postpartum depression. Postpartum depression symptoms can range from mild to severe, and are similar to those of other types of depression.
When a woman suffers from postpartum depression, it affects her family as well. She may lose interest in spending time with her partner and children. Older children in the family may have a hard time coping. Everyone in the family unit may suffer from feelings of unimportance, including the mother.
A woman’s body and emotional state change drastically following delivery of a baby. Nearly all women experience some symptoms of postpartum depression after childbirth, such as loss of sexual interest and inexplicable crying spells. A woman who has recently had a baby can expect weight fluctuations and appetite changes, especially if she is breastfeeding. Sleep disorders and physical exhaustion are very common in early motherhood.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
A postpartum depression diagnosis generally requires at least five postpartum depression symptoms to be present over a two-week period, with one of the symptoms being a depressed mood or deteriorating interest or pleasure in all activities. Other symptoms include:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Excessive anxiety, frequently focusing on the child’s health
- Fantasizing about running away from all responsibilities
- Fear of being alone with or harming the baby
- Fear of rejection by partner
- Feelings of anger
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, particularly those that focus on failing at motherhood
- Poor personal hygiene.
Postpartum Anxiety Disorder
Postpartum anxiety is postpartum depression combined with panic or anxiety disorder. In addition to postpartum depression symptoms, women suffering from postpartum anxiety disorder may experience:
- Difficulty performing routine tasks
- Generalized anxiety or panic attacks
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding offers many benefits. Breast milk provides exactly proportioned nutrients for a growing baby, including protective antibodies and hormones for optimal growth and development.
Breastfeeding can be a frustrating experience for both mother and baby, particularly if the newborn does not “latch on” immediately. Interestingly, while this frustration may lead to feelings of worthlessness or anxiety, one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it may actually help relieve postpartum depression symptoms for some new mothers. However, if a mother is taking antidepressants or other medications, then the drugs can pass on to the baby during breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor to determine breastfeeding safety.
O’Hara, M.W. (1995). Postpartum depression. Series in Psychopathology, 1-27. Alloy, L. B. (ed). Springer-Verlag, New York.
Postpartum Support International Staff. (n.d.). Depression during pregnancy and postpartum. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from the Postpartum Support International website: http://www.postpartum.net/Get-the-Facts/Depression-During-Pregnancy-Postpartum.aspx.