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World Mental Health Day: Identifying Postpartum Depression

Today is World Mental Health Day, and we want to address a very important topic: postpartum depression. Postpartum depression, or PPD, is sometimes confused with the ‘baby blues,’ which is a mild form of sadness after birth.

Symptoms of the ‘baby blues’ include:

  • Sadness

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Mood swings

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Reduced concentration and motivation.

PPD, however, is more severe and/or longer-lasting. PPD symptoms include:

  • Excessive crying

  • Feeling hopeless/worthless

  • Overwhelming fatigue

  • Difficulty bonding with your baby

  • Panic attacks

  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.

What we’re here to tell you is that postpartum depression is very common, affecting one in eight mothers, and reports show that these numbers skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with one in three mothers affected.

Addressing PPD early may reduce the severity and chronicity of symptoms. It may also have positive impacts on your child’s health and development. So, it may be helpful to know some of the risk factors for PPD.

  • A lifetime history of depression before pregnancy or depression during pregnancy are associated with elevated risk of postpartum depression.

  • Women who have experienced adverse life events (including, but not limited to, death of a loved one, natural disasters, or job loss) are at a higher risk of PPD.

  • Social factors such as lack of social support or marital strife may also play a role in the development of postpartum depression.

  • Women who have difficulties breastfeeding tend to have higher rates of postpartum depression. This is believed to be due to feelings of inadequacy. Though let us remind you, struggling to breastfeed is very common and has nothing to do with your abilities as a mother!

  • Similarly, mothers who have suffered traumatic birth experiences, such as umbilical cord prolapse or obstetric hemorrhage, can also be at higher risk.

While many hormones and biochemicals are believed to be potential biomarkers of PPD, they require further study before this can be confirmed.

So what can be done?

From a lifestyle perspective, some studies have shown that nutrition, specifically sufficient consumption of nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables, plays a key role in reducing postpartum depression. Micronutrients, such as zinc and selenium are also believed to be important. Researchers at the University of Colorado found that reduced intake of zinc and selenium is associated with increased risk of PPD.

According to the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, breastfeeding exclusively for the first three months is also associated with a reduced rate of postpartum depression.

Ultimately, psychotherapy - or talk therapy - is often the most useful support system for mothers suffering from PPD. Many therapists are specially trained to manage postpartum depression, although general therapists or mental health professionals can also be useful.

For moderate-to-severe PPD, antidepressants are often prescribed. The most common (and believed to be the safest) antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). There have been several studies which indicate that antidepressants have improved symptoms in those suffering from PPD. If you are breastfeeding, antidepressants can still be a safe option, but it is important to discuss any concerns with your doctor before starting medication.

It's important to call your doctor as soon as possible if the signs and symptoms of depression have any of these features:

  • Don't fade after two weeks

  • Are getting worse

  • Make it hard for you to care for your baby

  • Make it hard to complete everyday tasks

  • Include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

We know that mental health can still be a tough topic and these conversations cannot and should not be restricted to this one date, but it’s important to know that you’re not alone. So many mothers are feeling the exact same way!

But there are ways to help, and we encourage you to seek them.


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