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Postpartum Depression: The Gloomy Side of Motherhood

When people think of depression, they imagine someone who is dealing with unemployment or grieving the loss of a loved one, but they rarely envision a mother who is supposed to be elated from the arrival of her new baby.


What is postpartum depression?


Postpartum depression is a mental disorder that affects behavioral, emotional, and physical health during pregnancy or after childbirth. This is usually caused by hormonal changes, stress, or genetics and affects a woman’s ability to care for her new baby. Some symptoms of this mental illness include mood swings, anxiety, irritability, despondency, fatigue, irregular sleep patterns, shame, guilt, and thoughts of suicide.


Who suffers from postpartum depression the most?


Around 50%-75% of new mothers experience the “baby blues,” which is a common type of depression that usually occurs within 10 days after childbirth. The “baby blues” is caused by stress and a shift in hormones. Although this is not postpartum depression, 20% of women who experience the “baby blues” develop postpartum depression.


Postpartum depression affects pregnant women, mothers who just gave birth within the past several months, women who underwent miscarriages, and moms who recently stopped breastfeeding. Alarmingly, 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, so this is a very common mental illness.


Women who suffer from mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, are at an increased risk for postpartum depression. In addition, mothers who have a family history of mental illness have a higher chance of suffering from postpartum depression. Furthermore, moms who had postpartum depression in the past are 30%-50% more likely to develop it again if they give birth to more babies in the future.


Women who give birth to special needs babies (premature birth, illness, or medical complications), or challenging babies (cries often, are hard to comfort, and have irregular sleep or hunger patterns), are at higher risk for developing postpartum depression. Moreover, isolation, lack of social support, abusive relationships, and low socioeconomic statuses can give rise to postpartum depression in women.


How is postpartum depression stigmatized and how does it affect sufferers?


Despite postpartum depression being a common mental illness, the help-seeking rates remain low due to stigma and fear. According to Dr. Teri Pearlstein, Dr. Margaret Howard, Dr. Amy Salisbury, and Dr. Caron Zlotnick, “women with PPD are often hesitant to divulge their mood and anxiety symptoms to their clinician because of guilt of having symptoms when motherhood is expected to be joyful” (Pearlstein et al., 2009). Based on this information, it is evident that fear prevents mothers from getting medical or psychological assistance. Motherhood is constantly portrayed as an exciting component of life, but people rarely discuss the challenges and obstacles that parents face on a daily basis, which silences women with postpartum depression.


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