Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression and the more severe postpartum psychosis are of major concern today, especially to new mothers or soon-to-be moms. Postpartum depression is also known as postnatal depression, or simply as the acronym PPD.

What Are the “Baby Blues”?

Feeding, diapering and taking care of a new baby can be overwhelming. Forty to 85 percent of women experience intense highs and lows as they adjust to life with a new baby. Feeling anxious and crying for reasons she can’t explain are actually normal behaviors for the mother of a new baby.

With feedings every few hours, the mother of a new baby is likely to feel tired and have trouble falling asleep again when deep sleep has been interrupted. She may have trouble concentrating and probably feels irritable. Sudden weight gain and weight loss are both normal, as are fluctuations in appetite.

These are symptoms of the “baby blues.” According to most research, these symptoms may last several weeks, often peaking during the first week following delivery. They usually go away by themselves.

If feelings of sadness persist more than a few weeks, a woman may be suffering from postpartum depression. How can you tell the difference?

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Having a baby changes everything. A woman’s body changes drastically. Her personal history and feelings about parenting can bring up very powerful emotions. The family may be financially and emotionally strained. Social pressures may be mounting.

The majority of research into the condition shows that, for about ten to fifteen percent of women and more than a fourth of all adolescent mothers, childbirth results in postnatal depression.

Most women who experience postnatal depression are affected within the first six weeks, and often are affected for more than six months. However, PPD research reveals that about 25 percent of women who don’t get help during this time are still depressed a year later.

Characteristics of PPD

  • It lasts more than two or three weeks.
  • It begins weeks or months after the new baby arrives.
  • It is more than anxiety.
  • A woman with postnatal depression may believe that there is something truly wrong with her abilities as a mother. She may start to distance herself from the baby.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis came into the news nationally in 2001 after Andrea Yates, a Texas woman, was accused of drowning her five children in the bathtub. Her attorney had considered an insanity defense based on postpartum depression. Yates was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in March 2002.

The condition can be truly debilitating. A rare and difficult disorder, it occurs in about one in 1,000 new mothers. It should be treated as a medical emergency. Patients need immediate medical assistance, which almost always includes medication.

Usually, symptoms are evident during the first four to twelve weeks postpartum, but can appear up to ninety days after delivery, and in some cases, 18 to 24 months after the new baby comes. Symptoms are obvious. A woman who suffers from postpartum psychosis loses touch with reality, experiencing hallucinations and delusions, usually with a focus on the baby dying or being divine or demonic. Sufferers may hear voices telling her to hurt herself or others. This is the point of the highest risk for committing infanticide and/or suicide.

Postpartum psychosis symptoms include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased rate of speech
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme depression

This level of disorder often includes bipolar illness, schizophrenia and even organic brain syndromes.

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