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Post Partum Depression

Catherine Fournier

One summer afternoon several years ago, I was driving down Bank Street in our little green car. My three and a half year old daughter and 18 month old son were in the back seat. I was on my way to my in-laws house where we were renovating a basement apartment. It was an ordinary bleak day, full of responsibilites, duties and endless chores.

Suddenly, my thoughts cleared. It was as if I had driven out of a dark tunnel and into bright sunshine. I could remember again, I could imagine planning tomorrow's activities, I felt peaceful. I also realised that I hadn't felt like that for over a year.

I had had severe Post Partum Depression.

Baby blues and more. Up to 80 percent of new mothers experience some degree of depression. This depression can vary from a mild form, commonly known and dismissed as 'baby blues' which only lasts a few days, to severe depression which can last weeks or even months. The latter, more severe form, affects between 10 and 20 percent of women after childbirth, and can seriously affect the health and harmony of the entire family.

Women normally experience several major biological changes in their lives; the onset of menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause, as well as the monthly cycle of hormonal shifts. It's likely, though unproven scientifically, that these hormonal changes play a part in the incidence of depression in women, and specifically in Post Partum Depression.

In addition, feelings of anxiety about caring for an infant, a change in life style from 'working woman' to stay-at-home mother, or from 'mom of one' to 'mother of two', worries about money, parental interference, a high-need infant, and a variety of other factors (most of which applied in my case) can contribute to depression.

Symptoms of Post Partum Depression: If any of these symptoms start after the first two weeks after birth, and last for more than two weeks, they may indicate Post Partum Depression.

  1. Change in eating habits (poor appetite or overeating)
  2. Change in sleep pattern (difficulty falling or staying asleep, oversleeping)
  3. Tenseness, nervousness
  4. Panic attacks with physical symptoms (shaking, palpitations, shortness of breath, lightheadedness)
  5. Fatigue or lack of energy
  6. Poor concentration, forgetfulness, or confusion
  7. Crying everyday
  8. Withdrawal, lack of interest in usual activities
  9. excessive worry or guilt feelings
  10. Recurrent or distrubing thoughts or compulsive behaviours that cause distress or take up a great deal of time
  11. Failure to keep appointments
Symptoms that call for immediate assistance from mental-health professionals include:
  1. Thoughts of suicide
  2. Fears of harming the baby
  3. Sounds and voices heard when no-one is around
  4. Thoughts that seem not your own or out of your control
  5. Sleeplessness lasting more than 48 hours
  6. Inability to eat
  7. Inability to care for the baby.

Post Partum emotional disorders and often misunderstood and unrecognized by family, friends and health professionals. Many new mothers who report these symptoms are told that they are normal and to be expected as 'part of having a baby'. Occasionally, they are told that they are somehow rejecting their baby, or are not appreciative enough of the great gift God has given them. None of this is true. There is no fault or blame or spiritual failing attached to experiencing Post Partum Depression, it is simply a chemical imbalance like gestational diabetes, or eclampsia. And just like gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia, some cases can be managed with some simple coping measures at home, but more severe forms may require medical intervention.

Coping Measures
  1. Tell your partner, a supportive friend, or a relative how you are feeling. Although some people may not understand, you may find valuable support close by.
  2. Talk to your doctor or midwife about how you are feeling. Ask about having blood tests done to make sure something else, such as a thyroid disorder, isn't the problem.
  3. Find a support group. Call Depression After Delivery (800/944-4PPD) to find out whether there is a postpartum support group in your area.
  4. Make getting extra rest a priority; being tired makes depression and anxiety worse. Nap when your baby naps. If possible, maximize your baby's sleep stretches at night by feeding him every two to two and a half hours during the day and evening.
  5. Enlist the help of others to relieve you of some mothering and household duties. Remember -charity works both ways. Some one has to receive for someone to give. Eliminate or lessen your daily chores until you are feeling better. If you want to do some chores, set minimal goals for yourself.
  6. Eat a well-balanced diet. If you have little appetite, fix small, nutritious snacks for yourself throughout the day. Avoid all caffeine and sugary foods and beverages; these are associated with worsening symptoms. Increase your intake of foods made up of complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain, breads and cereals, potatoes, rice, and pasta. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Using powdered milk or yogurt, wheat germ, and fruit or juice concentrate, you can make nutritious blender drinks. If you find it difficult to prepare food for yourself throughout the day, your pharmacist can recommend a high-calorie nutritional supplement such as Ensure or Sustacal.
  7. Take time with your appearance every day. When you get up, make a point of getting dressed, fixing your hair, and putting on a little makeup, if you like it. Pamper yourself with a facial, a new hair style, or something new to wear. Looking good helps you feel better about yourself.
  8. Get some exercise every day. Many people find that exercise has an antidepressant effect. Join an exercise or dance class; many offer free child care. Take a brisk walk every day with or without the baby.
  9. Nurture yourself as much as possible. Take long bubble baths, get a massage, ask your partner to hold you, spend the afternoon watching a video or reading a light novel. Spend some quiet time in prayer every day, or visit the Blessed Sacrament.
  10. Make an effort to spend time with other adults. Invite friends over, join a postpartum group, or make friends with other mothers from your childbirth class. Your childbirth instructor may have additional suggestions. If you have just moved to the area, ask your pediatrician's or family practitioner's nurse for other resources. (This list was adapted from Battling The Blues by Kathleen Huggins, R.N., M.S., in 'The Nursing Mother's Companion')

If the Post Partum Depression is severe, the mother may not be helped by the above measures, or may not be able to take any action to help herself. In my case, admitting that I had a problem was virtually impossible, to do so would have been admitting to my worse fears - that somehow I was a bad and unfit mother.

If you or someone you know exhibits any of the symptoms listed above, or feels powerless to improve their life, be as persistent as you can in getting help. Keep looking and asking until you get some understanding and assistance. There are many health professionals and social workers trained in this area, and able to offer advice, support and if necessary, medical intervention.

Conclusion 16 years later, I still have little memory of my son's first 18 months of life. I can't remember Christmas, his first birthday, when he walked, or his first smile. Still, I feel very fortunate that I somehow pulled out of the depression, and didn't have a re-occurrence after any of my other children's births. Still, I wish someone had noticed that something was out of order and had pushed me to get help sooner.

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