Is this more than just the baby blues? Know when to seek help.

You are not alone

Having a new baby is one of life’s pure joys – but it can also be exhausting and stressful. Most women will go through a period of the ‘baby blues’ as they adjust to their new role and their body adjusts to the hormonal surges of the postpartum period. How do you know if what you are experiencing is normal and when do you seek help?

Baby Blues

Many post-natal women – up to 80% - suffer from some sort of baby blues, a time when they feel emotionally vulnerable and are more easily tearful and sad. It is a common and completely normal part of new parenthood. You may experience: moodiness, tearfulness, irritability, a feeling of isolation, headaches and sleeplessness. Symptoms tend to be mild and can last for a few hours or several days. The baby blues are not the same thing as postpartum depression and does not necessarily lead to postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a psychiatric disorder that can occur anytime after delivery; usually in the first few weeks, but it can last several months and up to a year. Symptoms can include feelings of hopelessness, sadness and frustration. You may feel overwhelmed and have low self-esteem, reduced libido and problems sleeping or eating. You could experience increased anxiety or panic attacks and have little interest in the baby.

Postpartum depression is a common but serious complication of pregnancy. The postpartum period is a time of increased risk of having a depressive episode - even if you have never experienced one before. About 10-15% of women suffer a depressive episode after giving birth. Risks include having had a previous episode of postpartum depression, having had an episode of depression ever, and having had depression earlier in the pregnancy. Little social support during and after the birth, and an unintended pregnancy are also risk factors for postpartum depression.

There are several ways to screen for postpartum depression itself; at postpartum visits, your clinician will likely ask about your mood and other symptoms like sleep, appetite, self-care and even thoughts of suicide. Some studies show that the combination of persistently depressed mood, hopelessness and feeling slowed down often means a full major depressive episode exists. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was created to screen women who may be at risk for postpartum depression. Answer the test honestly and seek help if you have a score greater than 13. If you or your family members suspect you may have postpartum depression, call your primary health care provider. Depression that comes on during the postpartum period can often affect the essential mother-infant bonding that can only take place during the early weeks and months. In severe cases, suicidal thoughts or actions, or thoughts that the baby shouldn't be around, or grow up, or should die, can occur. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, go to the nearest Emergency Department immediately for help. There are a number of treatment options for postpartum depression but many women recover well with the help of support groups or counselling.

source: Dr. Eric Prost, Department of Psychiatry, Queen's University

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