For most women, childbirth is a peak experience filled with love, joy, and a sense of awe. Others find themselves shrouded in a cloud of depression, unable to enjoy the birth of their new child.
Postpartum depression is a natural response to childbirth. Approximately 66% of women experience mild depression or tearfulness as their hormone levels stabilize and they adjust emotionally to their new situation. For some women, however, the condition is more serious.
Severe postpartum depression affects around 10-30% of new mothers. Symptoms include anxiety, irritability, excessive worry over the newborn, fatigue, a sense of failure and guilt, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, and thoughts of suicide.
In more severe cases, a woman may develop panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Plagued by repetitive thoughts and ritualistic behavior, a mother becomes so frightened that something will happen to her newborn that she begins to imagine that she is the culprit who will harm her child.
Other women may exhibit manic behavior characteristic of bipolar disorder. In fact, a woman with a prior history of bipolar disorder has a five times greater chance of experiencing a manic episode after delivery.
Statistics reveal that one woman in 1,000 births will likely develop postpartum psychosis. This is a psychiatric emergency which requires immediate hospitalization. Symptoms include bizarre behavior, confusion, irritability, hallucinations, delusions, and poor personal hygiene. A woman suffering from this disorder is at high risk for committing suicide or infanticide. (Think Andrea Yates and some other highly-publicized cases.)
What makes a woman susceptible to developing a serious case of postpartum depression? A prior history of depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, mood disorder, mental illness, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, and substance abuse top the list of risk factors. But other factors include an unplanned pregnancy, single motherhood, immaturity, low self-esteem, financial problems, marital difficulties, inadequate social support, and poor personal relationships.
If you are a new mother experiencing any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, please get help. Post partum depression is easily treated with antidepressants, antianxiety medications, support groups, psychotherapy, and counseling.
June 10, 2007
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