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Postpartum depression: top five facts

By Steffi Friday, March 7, 2014 - 06:16
The time after giving birth is supposed to be a happy and joyful one. But the fact is, for many mothers, it's not. They suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), also known as postnatal depression.

As many as 1 in 4 new mums get PPD. It can even make it hard for them to look after their babies. So know the warning signs: read this week's top five facts.​​

What is PPD?

PPD affects somewhere between 5 to 25 per cent of all new mothers. It means that women become clinically depressed within a few weeks after giving birth. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns. While you may see these symptoms in most new mums at some point, PPD includes crying episodes, anxiety and irritability too. Also, PPD may keep a mum from being able to take good care of her new baby. 

The causes of PPD aren't yet fully understood. But there are a few factors that are thought to increase the risk of PPD, such as trauma during birth, low self-esteem, a bad relationship with your partner or lots of anxiety about being a mum.

Most women with PPD respond well to counselling and support groups. It can take a few months or even longer to successfully fight your PPD though. Some women need medication and more intense treatment.

And men beware: sometimes even men can get PPD!

What to look out for

The earlier you detect PPD, the faster you can do something about it and the better the chances of getting over it quickly. That's why it's really important to look out for any unusual signs of crying and fear in the new mum, and feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed. 

If you suspect that your partner or someone you are close to might be suffering from PPD, gently talk to them about it. Make sure you stress that this isn't something they’ve brought on themselves. Nobody is to blame for PPD.

The problem is that many women with PPD don't realise that they have a treatable condition. The think their feelings are all part of being a new mum. Others are ashamed to admit that they feel overwhelmed, when everyone expects them to be happy. It's important to be gentle and show the new mum all the support she needs.

Baby Blues and Baby Pinks

PPD and the baby blues aren't the same thing. The baby or maternity blues, also makes women cry, have mood swings or be anxious. They are a relatively normal reaction in the first few weeks after giving birth, while the body has to get its hormone levels back in order and mum adjusts to her new life, sleepless nights included. 

The baby blues usually disappear on their own after a few weeks, without medical help. It's different to watch out for more severe symptoms, or if the negative feelings last very long, then you may have PPD.

The baby pinks on the other hand, means that a woman is overly excited, almost manic, after giving birth. Sometimes, the baby pinks can be the first sign of PPD, so keep this in mind.

Postpartum psychosis

Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is sometimes confused with PPD, but it's a separate condition. It's far less common than PPD, with only one case per 1000 births, but it's much more severe.

The affected mums have delusions and hallucinations. PPP is most common in new mothers who already have a condition like bipolar disorder or another mental problem before giving birth. It's really important to get medical help if you suspect you or someone you know has PPP – it won't go away without treatment. 

PPD around the world

PPD can affect women from all around the world. But different cultures deal with it in different ways. In Malay culture, for example people believe that there is a spirit in the placenta, and if it’s unhappy it can cause PPD in the mother. A shaman is needed to make the spirit leave.

In other cultures people think that a new mother needs to be protected after giving birth so she doesn’t get PPD. Some Chinese mums, for example, spend the first month after labour in bed, looked after by their mothers and mother-in-laws. While this sounds very relaxing, they aren't allowed to bathe, wash their hair or leave the house. Let's hope that won't give them the baby blues!
 

Have you suffered from PPD? Share your thoughts and experiences below or join the discussion on Facebook.

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