16 years ago, Andrea Yates, a former resident of Houston, Texas drowned her 5 children – from the oldest who was 7 years old, to the youngest that was just 6 months old. Her action brought into stark reality, the severity of postpartum depression and postpartum PTSD.
Everyone usually looks upon pregnancy and child birth as a wonderful experience for mothers. Looking from the other side of the divide, we feel that no matter how harrowing the experience was for the mother, that there should be this intense feeling of joy once she sees her baby and realises that they are both safe. Unfortunately, our ideal is not always the case.
Some new mums experience postpartum baby blues. This usually begins within the first 2-3 days of delivery and usually lasts only a week or 2 weeks after the baby is born. This condition usually includes symptoms like: mood swings, sadness, irritability, trouble with sleeping, lack of appetite, etc. Experts have stated that this condition is usually brought on by the hormonal changes going on in the body.
Postpartum depression is more than just baby blues. Mr. Tunji Johnson of the Postpartum Support Network Africa says 1 in 7 nursing mothers suffer from postpartum depression. According to Mr. Johnson, children born by mothers that exhibit postpartum depression have the tendency to develop behavioural problems as they grow up. Postpartum depression also called PPD is not a character flaw, it’s a feeling of sadness, hopelessness that a mother might have after delivering her baby. It could start anytime during the baby’s first year, but research has shown that it usually starts after the first 3 weeks of delivery. Some of the symptoms of postpartum depression include:
Feeling sad for most of the time
Feeling distant and withdrawn from family and friends
A loss of interest in activities including sex
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Feeling tired most of the day
Feeling angry and irritable
Feelings of anxiety, worry, panic attacks and racing thoughts.
Feelings of guilt, because you can’t bond with your child as you ought to.
The big question is, what causes PPD?
Hormones are a major cause of PPD. Research has shown that hormone levels rise during pregnancy and drop suddenly after delivery. This rising and falling of the hormones can trigger depression in some women.
Another cause of PPD is a history of depression such as – if a new mum has had depression before or there is a history of it in her family, there is a likelihood that she might suffer from PPD.
Stress is another leading cause for PPD. If a pregnancy was particularly stressful, or problems were encountered during the pregnancy, it can lead to PPD in some women.
Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is quite different from postpartum depression. For a long time, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder also called PTSD was associated with veterans of war and people that have gone through really terrible experiences. Research has shown that new mothers also suffer from PTSD. According to Postpartum Support International, 9% of women experience postpartum PTSD. Postpartum PTSD occurs as a result of trauma or perceived trauma experienced during delivery. Susanne Babbel PhD, M.F.T, a psychologist specialising in trauma and depression, the following childbirth trauma could lead to postpartum PTSD
Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby
Lack of proper communication, lack of support and reassurance during delivery can also contribute to postpartum PTSD.
What differentiates postpartum PTSD from postpartum depression? PTSD symptoms are usually grouped into 3 categories; re-experiencing, avoidance and increased arousal. Experts advise that we look out for the following signals.
Intrusive re-experiencing of a past traumatic event, in this case the childbirth.
Flashbacks or nightmares about the childbirth experience
Avoidance of things that may remind the mother about the childbirth experience including the baby
Persistent increased arousal such as; irritability, difficulty sleeping, hyper-vigilance, getting easily startled.
Anxiety and panic attacks
Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment.
If postpartum PTSD and depression are not properly handled, they could degenerate into psychosis as was the case with Andrea Yates. The good news is that both conditions are treatable and temporary with the right support system. Some lifestyle changes can help.
Get enough sleep
Find time to exercise
Surround yourself with support network of family and friends
Eat regular, nourishing meals
Ask trusted people to watch your child/children for you so that you can have a much needed break.
Talk about it; PPD or postpartum PTSD does not make you a terrible mother.