Many people associate birth with magic and happiness. However, for some parents, it can be a sad time. Post-partum depression is the most common childbearing complication.
There is no way to guarantee that you won’t experience depression. However, there are some steps you can take during pregnancy that may help prevent depression after delivery.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Bringing a baby into the world is a life-changing experience, so having a range of emotions is usually normal.
A mother or father may feel happy and excited one moment and depressed the next. These mood swings are called the baby blues—and they’re experienced by 80% of new mothers. These mood swings usually subside and go away soon after adjusting to the birth.
However, if this feeling doesn’t go away, it can develop into a deep and ongoing depression. This is called postpartum depression and it’s experienced by 10% of mothers within the first year. This form of depression can start during pregnancy or up to a year after birth. Furthermore, 20% of women experience an episode of major or minor depression within the first 3 months. This makes depression the most common childbearing complication, according to studies.
Signs of postpartum depression include:
- Sadness or crying
- Severe anxiety
- Irritable or angry
- Withdrawal from others or from activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes
- Sleep changes
- Difficult concentrating, learning or making decisions
A parent experiencing postpartum depression may worry if they are being a good parent or may not enjoy being a parent. They may also feel severely overwhelmed and anxious by their new responsibilities. In severe cases, a parent may wish to harm themselves or their baby (although these thoughts rarely lead to action). If you or someone you know is having these thoughts, you should call 911 immediately.
Unfortunately, postpartum depression is significantly undertreated. This is largely because of the stigma attached to a mental illness during a time that is viewed as happy.
Can Men Have Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression doesn’t only affect the person giving birth; it can also affect the father. Since it’s less talked about, men often suffer in silence and do not seek help. So, if you suspect your partner is suffering from depression, it’s important to encourage him to seek help too.
That being said, postpartum depression is most common in mothers. Parents who adopt may also experience the mental illness.
Why Does Postpartum Depression Occur?
It’s difficult to pinpoint why postpartum depression occurs because the answer is different for every patient. A combination of physical and emotional changes usually trigger the condition.
Postpartum depression may be caused by:
- A drop in hormones. After you give birth, your elevated estrogen and progesterone levels decrease.
- Hormones produced by your thyroid gland may also drop, possibly leading to depression and fatigue.
- Sleep deprivation. If the baby is causing you to lose significant sleep, a lack of rest may cause you to have trouble dealing with daily life.
- After giving birth, some parents have anxiety about looking after a newborn. Women may also struggle with issues such as body image or self-identity.
Although any parent may experience postpartum depression, there are certain factors that make one person more at-risk than another:
- Personal or family history of depression or another mental illness
- You’ve experienced major events such as pregnancy complications, job loss or illness
- Newborn with health issues
- Relationship issues
- Financial issues
- Weak support system
- Pregnancy that was unplanned or unwanted
- Bottle feeding or difficultly breast feeding
Ways to Prevent Postpartum Depression
It’s important to understand that there is no surefire way to prevent postpartum depression. However, there are some steps you can take that may decrease your risk.
1.Talk to Your Doctor
If you have a history of depression, tell your doctor before or when you become pregnant. He or she can closely check you for signs and symptoms along your journey. You may be asked to complete a depression-screening questionnaire during your pregnancy or after you give birth. Your physician may also recommend anti-depressants or therapy during or after pregnancy.
If you’re experiencing mental health issues now—or even if you’re just worried about getting postpartum depression—talk to your doctor about specific steps you can take.
It’s important to have regular check-ups within the first year because the sooner depression is caught, the quicker it can be treated.
In 2016, the United States Preventive Task Force recommended that all pregnant women received mental health screenings.
If you have a history of depression, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy during or after pregnancy. However, even if you’re not at-risk and you’re just worried about getting postpartum depression, therapy is a good option.
Various forms of therapy can be helpful for most people. The most effective seem to be cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing thought patterns, and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT).
One study divided mothers into two groups: Those who received IPT and those who didn’t. Out of those who didn’t receive therapy, 33% experienced postpartum depression. None of the therapy patients got postpartum depression.
A 2011 study evaluated if CBT was an effective treatment for postpartum depression in mothers. Out of the group that received therapy, only 9% reported depressive symptoms. This is compared to 33% who did not partake in CBT.
If you’re not interested in therapy, attending an antenatal class may also help.
Common topics addressed include self-care, problem-solving and social support. Some classes may talk about unrealistic beliefs and target emotional problems. Before taking a class, inquire about what topics are taught. According to a 2014 review of research, 3 out of 6 studies showed that these classes are beneficial.
After labor, join a new-mothers group to continue the support.
A 2004 study evaluated 22 non-depressed women with a history of postpartum depression. They were given the antidepressant sertraline within 24 hours of giving birth. Compared to a placebo, it was “significantly more effective.”
However, the antidepressant Nortriptyline did not show any benefits in a 2005 study.
If you’re interested in taking an antidepressant to avoid postpartum depression, talk to your doctor about your options and the possible side effects.
Some studies show that social support after delivery may prevent at-risk women from experiencing postpartum depression. With social support, you can get help with your pregnancy (reducing stress now) and express your worries about parenting (hopefully reducing stress later).
In a 2009 study, researchers enrolled volunteers into a telephone-based peer support program. They found that women who participated had significantly lower depression scores 12 weeks after delivery.
If you’re looking for support, try reaching out to trusted friends or family members that understand your concern. If you feel comfortable, try talking to your partner about your emotions. If you don’t know what to say, you can start off with something like, “I’ve been reading a bit about postpartum depression online and I’m really worried about experiencing it or that I may be at-risk.”
Expressing this will often encourage your friends to reach out more to provide support.
Another option for support is to attend antenatal classes as mentioned above. Here you will meet other women and teachers who can relate and support you in your journey.
You may also find a sense of community by joining and participating in online pregnancy forums. It’s important to keep these support networks after you’ve given birth.
The build-up of emotions can lead to or make depression more likely. De-stressing now may help prevent postpartum depression.
De-stressing looks different for everyone. But here are a few ideas:
- Writing out how or what you’re feeling can help get your emotions out.
- Check out our ultimate guide to pregnancy yoga.
- Meditation has been shown to help a variety of mental health issues and decrease stress. Learn more about pregnancy meditation here.
- A hot bath.
- Reading a novel or an uplifting book.
- Numerous studies have shown that exercise can help elevate mood and help those suffering from depression. Some studies even find exercise to be more effective than some antidepressants.
7.Remind Yourself of Your Successes
Go easy on yourself during pregnancy and after delivery. If you’ve never had a child before, this is completely new to you. Even if you have children, each child is a different experience. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and worried to an extent.
Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, try to focus on what has already gone right. Focus on the successes of your pregnancy and that your baby is healthy. Congratulate yourself on adapting to the changes you already have. Pregnancy isn’t always easy, but you’re doing great so far!
In your head, it may help to imagine and visualize an easy delivery of a healthy newborn. You can do this exercise whenever you’re feeling anxious or have a specific worry.
Although these tips won’t 100% prevent depression, slowly training yourself to have a positive mindset will make it less likely.
8.Detach from the Stigma
While there are some steps you can take that may help prevent postpartum depression, there is no way to fully prevent it. For this reason, it may help to decrease your worry about getting depression.
Take preventative measures (especially if you’re at-risk), but remind yourself that you’re not alone if you do experience depression in the future. Many new mothers overcome depression and if you get it, you can too! It does not mean you’re a bad parent and it does not mean that you don’t love your baby. Remind yourself that you can pull through any experience.
Make a plan on what you will do if you notice yourself experiencing postpartum depression. For example, have a list of local hotlines and therapists you can call if you need. Knowing you’re prepared and that that’s the best you can do may ease your worries.
Are you taking any steps to prevent postpartum depression? If so, comment your tips below. If you have any pregnant friends, be sure to share this article to help them, too!
P.S. If you’re constantly worrying about your baby’s health, check out our fetal dopplers. These at-home devices allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat at home, ensuring you that he or she is okay.