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Depression After Pregnancy

Depression After Pregnancy: Frequently Asked Questions

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 15:52

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to depression after pregnancy.

Q: Instead of feeling happy after my baby was born, I cried constantly and felt terribly anxious. What's normal and what's not?

A: Normal reactions include irritability, anger, crying, exhaustion, tension, restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia, all of which appear about three days after birth and may last for about two weeks. If these symptoms worsen and extend beyond a few weeks, you may be experiencing true postpartum depression and should consult a physician or other health care professional.

Q: I was fine for the first month after my baby was born. Then I began feeling terrible. Is this the baby blues?

A: At least half of new mothers get the baby blues, a mild form of depression that begins a few days or a week after delivery and usually lasts no more than two weeks. Since you started feeling low about six weeks after delivery, it may be true postpartum depression, which can last from two weeks to a year. It is less common, affecting 10 to 20 percent of new mothers. Best to consult your physician.

Q: Is a sudden drop in hormones the only cause of postpartum depression?

A: Cases of postpartum depression have been reported in adoptive mothers and new fathers, which tells us that the condition is not only hormonal. Psychological or relationship factors may also contribute to postpartum depression. For example, a new mother may have exceptionally low confidence as a parent or may have a problematic relationship with her partner.

Q: Are there steps I can take if I am at risk for postpartum depression?

A: You can develop a postpartum plan that includes taking care of yourself, avoiding exhaustion, asking for help from family and friends, and finding a therapist and support group before delivery.

Q: Could breastfeeding my baby contribute to depression?

A: Social isolation or lack of support while breastfeeding can certainly contribute to depression. However, breastfeeding is not a contributing factor to postpartum depression. In fact, the hormonal changes after birth occur more gradually when a mother breastfeeds, and breastfeeding increases levels of the hormone prolactin, which is known to help produce a calm feeling.

Q: Even though I am exhausted, I cannot sleep. Is this just part of the baby blues?

A: Chances are that if everything is quiet and baby is asleep, you should be able to sleep as well, thereby getting the rest you need as a new mother. One of the signs that the baby blues may be developing into true postpartum depression is the inability to sleep no matter how tired you are or how quiet the house is. If this is happening, it may be wise to seek professional help.

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