Welcoming a new baby to the family is a life-changing experience. While this is an exciting time for the new parents, it can also be extremely tiring and overwhelming. Many people will grapple with bouts of worry and uncertainty. However, if you are feeling extreme emotions, severe mood swings or frequent crying spells, you might be suffering from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is broadly categorised in three levels. The first, often referred to as baby blues, affects up to 75% of people, during which the sufferer may experience frequent and prolonged crying for no apparent reason, sadness and anxiety, loss of appetite and sleeping issues. It usually subsides within two weeks without requiring treatment.
The second level, postpartum depression, afflicts one out of seven people and presents symptoms that last longer and with greater intensity, leading to an interference with the parent’s ability to care for the baby or go about their daily routine. If untreated, it could last several months.
Postpartum psychosis is the most severe condition, although it is relatively rare, affecting only one in 1,000 people. As it can cause the person to have life-threatening thoughts and behaviours, it requires immediate treatment.
Causes & Symptoms
There is no single cause for postpartum depression, but genetics, hormonal fluctuations, and physical, social, psychological and emotional changes are thought to contribute. While most people associate the condition with new mothers, it can affect the other parent, as well, as they navigate uncharted waters with the newborn.
Signs of postpartum depression include:
- Crying frequently for no reason
- Sudden mood changes
- Loss of appetite, energy and/or motivation
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling sad, restless, hopeless or guilty
- Excessive worrying
- Abnormal sleeping habits
- Disinterest in baby
- Difficulty thinking, focusing or remembering things
- Having thoughts of hurting oneself or the baby
What can you do to keep postpartum depression at bay?
- Ensure you have adequate support
There are plenty of avenues to look for support – from support groups and therapists to your partner, family and friends. Make sure you have people who are able to listen to you and help you when needed and, of course, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Get regular exercise
Find time to exercise, as it may have an antidepressant effect. Taking walks with the baby is a great way to get in some steps AND fresh air! If you’re unable to fit in a long exercise session, short 10-minute stints can also help.
- Eat healthily
While this isn’t a direct cure for postpartum depression, eating nutritious foods can help you feel better and aid in your body’s healing. Try planning your meals and snacks ahead of time. A healthy diet doesn’t have to be a difficult one. There are plenty of easy and healthy recipes that you can try.
- Try to get enough sleep
It is widely recognised that lack of sleep can intensify depressive symptoms. However, sleep might be hard to come by when you have a new baby at home. It might be helpful to take naps or move your bedtime earlier. If you’re breastfeeding, consider pumping a bottle so your partner can take turns with the night feeding.
- Prioritise self-care
Find time to do things that you enjoy. You may find it helpful to intentionally carve out dedicated “me time” every week. Hand the baby over to your partner or another trusted adult and use this time to decompress. You could take a walk, watch a movie, read a book or even do some yoga and meditation.
If you suspect that you may be experiencing postpartum depression, do not hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider, such as your obstetrician/gynaecologist, primary care provider, mental health provider or even paediatrician about it. They will be able to help you get the support you need.