Motherhood is undoubtedly the most beautiful experience that a woman can go through. There is no need for me to mention the unique bond of a mother-child that forms even before the child comes into this world. As beautiful as the experience is, I am sure nobody will deny the fact that it is not an easy job at all. Would-be mothers go through a lot of physical and psychological changes during the span of pregnancy. For those nine months, they literally give up their comfort and focus on the little life that is blooming inside them. And we are all aware of the extensive pain that they have to go through while delivering the baby.
Mothers will agree on the fact that all the struggles of the pregnancy and long hours of labour is totally worth it after holding their neonate for the first time. However, movies, TV series, soap operas, and to some extent our own lack of knowledge leads us to believe that it is a smooth journey once the child is born. This is not the case. Mothers are on a constant roller coaster ride while dealing with infants, and it shouldn not be surprising, but the sudden increase of responsibilities can lead to frustration and often depression.
The kind of depression that is related to childbirth is called postpartum depression, or postnatal depression which includes extreme sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, anxiety, irritability, and crying episodes. It usually begins within a week and month after the child is born.
There are a lot of factors that lead to postpartum depression. The symptoms include:
- Persistent sadness or anxiousness
- Severe mood swings
- Frustration, irritability, anger
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Lowered self-esteem
- Extreme exhaustion
- Inability to be comforted
- Trouble in bonding with the baby
- Feeling inadequate in taking care of the baby
- Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
- Low energy
- Low libido
- Changes in appetite
- Fatigue or decreased energy
- Poor self-care
- Social withdrawal
- Insomnia or excess sleep
- Diminished ability to make decisions or think clearly
- Lack of concentration or poor memory
- Fear that one cannot care for the baby
- Worry about harming the self, baby, or partner
Postpartum depression typically begins between two weeks and one month after the child is born, however, recent studies have shown that 50% of the postpartum depressive episodes occur even before childbirth. It can also occur in women who have suffered a miscarriage. It can interfere with the mother-child relationship and affect the development of the child. It may also lead mothers to be inconsistent with child care, this includes feeding and sleeping routines and health maintenance of the child.
Causes of postpartum depression are not well understood, however, the risk factors may include genetics, hormonal changes, and major life events. Out of these, hormonal changes are believed to play a major role in causing postnatal depression. The hormones that have been studied are estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormone, testosterone, corticotropin-releasing hormone, and cortisol. Childcare brings with it an overwhelming change in the lifestyle, which can also be a cause of postpartum depression.
Treatment for postpartum depression includes psychotherapy and medications. Social interventions, that include individual counselling and peer support, and psychological interventions, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT), have shown to be equally effective in the treatment of postpartum depression. Along with these, it is also necessary that the mother is provided with ample emotional support from the husband and family members.
Motherhood is something that most women experience. But even though it’s such a common thing, it is still a unique experience for every mother in the world. Everyone goes through different phases, and while the physical changes during pregnancy are the same for all women, psychological effects differ from person to person. Postpartum depression is a serious issue which needs to be acknowledged and treated and not neglected by saying things like “it’s not a big deal”, “don’t make such a fuss out of it”, “so many women give birth to children and they take care of them without complaining, you’re no one special”. We need to avoid being so insensitive to someone who is clearly going through a lot. Some instances have shown that mothers with unattended postpartum depression sometimes even end up killing their infant, by drowning or some other method. They become so detached with the baby that they don’t even feel like catering to their needs. We need to understand that this condition is no joke and that mothers going through it needs help and support.
I would also like to mention here that it is not just women who go through postpartum depression, men suffer from it too. Studies have shown that 1% to 26% of new fathers go through it too. Fathers have as much responsibility in childcare as mothers, so it is understandable that they too get tired or frustrated and fall into depression. We need to be sensitive towards the mothers and fathers equally and not take their situations lightly.