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Postpartum Depression: Knowing the Signs and Getting Help

Originally posted May 27, 2014.

The birth of your child is a very exciting time. From decorating the nursery to shopping for cute outfits, preparing for your little bundle of joy requires quite a bit of planning in advance. Despite this, expectant mothers often don’t take into consideration the changes that a new baby can bring to both their life and body.

While occasional feelings of anxiety, stress and depression immediately following the birth are not uncommon—these feelings are often referred to as the “baby blues” —it can become worrisome when they continue beyond the first few weeks following childbirth. If you continue to feel down, you should seek help, as you may be suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).

Postpartum depression symptoms affect many women and should not be ignored. According to the American Psychological Association, it’s estimated that 9-16% of women will experience postpartum depression. Educating yourself about the risk factors, symptoms and treatments of postpartum depression with the following facts and tips can help you avoid potential health hazards, making motherhood as joyous as it should be.

Risk factors for postpartum depression:

  • Previous episodes of mental health problems including depression or postpartum depression

  • A family history of mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder

  • Other stressful life events at the same time as pregnancy or immediately following birth

  • Marital or relationship problems and a lack of support from partner, family members and friends

The following symptoms might be a sign of postpartum depression:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and emptiness, thinking that you are not going to get better

  • Abnormal eating habits or extreme weight loss or weight gain

  • Changes in sleep patterns – sleeping more or less than usual

  • Loss of interest in social interactions and enjoyment of social activities

  • Mood swings ranging from sadness and anxiety to extreme guilt

  • Little to no energy

  • Feelings of exhaustion and body fatigue

  • Lack of interest or negative thoughts towards the baby

  • Feelings of worthlessness, thinking that your baby would be better off without you

  • Lack of concentration and inability to make decisions

  • Lack of happiness and pleasure

  • Suicidal thoughts

Postpartum depression is a serious condition, and while it’s impossible to know if you will develop it, you can do the following things to help minimize the effect of hormonal changes after child birth:

  • Ask for help. Take the help offered to you by your friends and family members. Having a newborn can be exhausting! Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends to lend you a helping hand so that you have a chance to relax and recharge.

  • Exercise frequently. When time allows, be sure you are exercising. Not only is exercise a great mood booster, but it can also help you work off some of your post-baby weight. Get moving and stay active, and you will feel better and lose some extra pounds after giving birth to your baby.

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other drugs. Try to take a break from alcohol, caffeine and other drugs to eliminate some negative effects on your mental health.

  • Check in often with your physician. Be sure to stay in touch with your physician after giving birth by going to any follow-up appointments and calling as soon as questions, issue and concerns arise.

  • Join a support group. Consider finding a support group to guide you after the birth of your baby. Talk to your physician for recommended options in your area and find out more about joining a support group. The postpartum services of the Perinatal Family Support Center are available at NorthShore University HealthSystem to help guide families through the transition after the birth of their newborn.

  • Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet. If your appetite is low, try to eat healthy, nutrient-rich snacks throughout the day to boost your mood and energy levels.

Postpartum depression can be effectively treated, and is not something that you should be embarrassed or ashamed to discuss. If you feel that you may be experiencing signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, do not hesitate to contact your physician. For emergency care, contact 911. It’s important to know that with help you can feel better and enjoy motherhood to the fullest.

This article was contributed by NorthShore University HealthSystem, a comprehensive, fully integrated healthcare delivery system that serves the Chicago region. With leading hospitals in Chicago and the surrounding area, NorthShore provides treatment for postpartum depression symptoms and other health concerns.

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