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Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues

This Postpartum Depression guide explains the post pregnancy hormones that bring about the Baby Blues and Post natal Depression, and what you can do to reduce its severity or onset.

The sudden change in hormone levels following childbirth is thought to be a principal cause of the Baby Blues. During your pregnancy, certain hormone levels (oestrogen and progesterone) are high to maintain the pregnancy and fetus. However, during the first 72 hours after giving birth, the levels of these hormones crash.

When the levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop, the body finds it very difficult to adjust. This can have a marked effect on your emotions and mental processes. Along with other factors such as personal, emotional or relationship problems, it may lead to postnatal blues.

After childbirth, because of the blood loss and lack of potassium in your body, it can also cause severe exhaustion, another possible postnatal problem. Low potassium levels can be easily corrected by eating plenty of potassium-rich foods such as bananas (Bananas are also great for getting rid of pregnancy cramps which pregnant women are prone to) and tomatoes.

The nature, severity and duration of postnatal emotional problems can vary greatly from one woman to another, and from one pregnancy to another.

Watch this Ted.com video by Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share. "The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment." In a talk equal parts eloquent and devastating, writer Andrew Solomon takes you to the darkest corners of his mind during the years he battled depression. That led him to an eye-opening journey across the world to interview others with depression — only to discover that, to his surprise, the more he talked, the more people wanted to tell their own stories.

The Baby Blues

As many as 80% of mothers suffer from the Baby Blues to some extent, so don't be surprised if you feel sad after giving birth. It is the norm and any woman who escapes it belongs to the fortunate minority.

The high levels of oestrogen and progesterone plunging to the comparatively low levels of normality can render the majority of mothers weepy, prone to sudden mood swings, irritable, indecisive and anxious. The Baby Blues can set in about 3 to 5 days after the birth and last for about a week to 10 days. The onset often coincides with the beginning of your milk production.

Becoming a Mother

The reality of motherhood may be initially bewildering and difficult to cope with once the initial euphoria of having your new baby wears off. You may feel confused and anxious about your ability to care for your own baby, and frustrated because it seems to be taking a long time to learn to be a good mother.

Stop, take a deep breath and calm yourself. No one becomes an expert overnight, the knowledge and ease is acquired only with time and wait for it...practise. Refer to Baby Care Tips and Taking Care of Yourself for some useful tips.

Talk things through openly with your partner. It is important to communicate your worries and concerns and share the stresses and strains of motherhood. It can prevent problems from escalating into a serious emotional disturbance.

It is also important not to overdo things. If you feel tired in the early days, take a short rest (Lie down with your feet raised slightly above your head) if whatever you are doing is not essential. Don't ignore the tiredness. If you can, get your partner or someone else to help share the duties of baby care.

I was kind of crazy when I had my first child. I insisted on doing everything myself, I didn't even allow my mother-in-law to help because I thought I was the only one who could give the 'best' care. My baby became so attached to me, I found it difficult to even take a pee or shower later on! We are fortunate here in Singapore, we are able to get domestic help easily. I can't imagine how hard it must be to do everything without any help.

Signs of Postnatal Depression

About 10% of all mothers develop Postnatal Depression symptoms. This is different and separate from the Baby Blues. Postpartum Depression is longer-lasting, more serious and needs rapid medical attention. It is a psychiatric disorder that can get out of hand if left untreated. I know of someone who threatened to kill her baby after her Postnatal depression was left untreated.

There are many symptoms associated with Postpartum Depression, which are experienced by different women in varying combinations. In addition to depressive symptoms, such as hopelessness and despondency, sufferers can experience lethargy, anxiety, tension, panic, sleep difficulties, loss of interest in sex, obsessional thoughts, feelings of guilt and lack of self-esteem and concentration.

How long does postpartum depression last?

Get medical help early if you notice that all is not right. With treatment, your depression should resolve in a few weeks. The longer Postnatal depression is untreated, the longer it will take to resolve.

Postpartum Depression Treatment

Besides seeking medical help, support from family and friends is vital. The doctor will normally prescribe antidepressant drugs, taking into account if you are breastfeeding. Over a period of time, these will bring about a gradual improvement. Keep taking your medication even after you start feeling better. Consult your doctor if you suffer any side effects or if your feelings of depression worsen premenstrually.

You can also help yourself when you find yourself feeling low. Be convinced that you will get better, no matter how long it takes.

  • Rest as much as possible - Being tired makes depression worse and harder to cope with. Power nap during the day and if possible, get someone to help with night feeds. You will find that you could become the 'Queen of Power Naps'. I have been able to catch naps in the most unlikely places eg by the swimming pool, in the car between my kids' lessons, anybody's handy sofa, sitting on the floor outside the ballet studio.
  • Maintain a Proper Diet - Eat plenty of fruit or raw vegetables. Don't snack or binge on chocolates and sweet biscuits. Eat little and often. Do not go on a strict diet. You need to recover from your childbirth by taking good care of your body. Giving birth is one of the most traumatizing events that can happen to a woman's body.
  • Take gentle Exercise - Give yourself a break from being indoors or caring for your baby by taking a brisk walk in the fresh air to lift the spirits. You can also choose to exercise with your baby.
  • Avoid major upheavals like moving house or redecorating.
  • Try not to Worry unduly - Aches and pains are common after childbirth, and more so if you are depressed. They will fade away over time (or most of them will...;o)
  • Be Kind to yourself - Don't force yourself to do things you don't want to do or that might upset you. The house doesn't have to be spotless. Take the time to reward yourself when you finish certain tasks.
  • Talk about your Feelings - Don't bottle up your concerns, this can make matters worse. Communicate your issues to others, particularly your partner. A supportive and helpful partner and an understanding family can make all the world of difference.

Your Partner's role in Postnatal Depression

There are many ways that your hubby can help constructively and take the pressure off you.

  • Hold the mother close a lot and tell her how proud he feels.
  • Stay with the older children whenever possible and reassure them with love, comfort and security. Older siblings also have to adjust to the new addition to the family and may misbehave until balance is achieved.
  • Help to bottle feed the newborn baby and give the mother a rest.
  • Carry the new baby in a sling around the house when he is home.
  • Do the shopping, the chores and the cooking when he can.
  • Carry the baby around in the sling when he goes out to give the mother a REAL break.
  • Take the children to his parents' place for the day and give the mother time on her own or to spend with the older siblings who might feel neglected with the new baby's arrival.

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