The other side of motherhood. Maternal Depression

Maternal Depression?

Maternal depression comes in two major forms. The signs and symptoms of depression after childbirth are varied and often range from mild to severe. For many mothers, giving birth is normally supposed to be a time of joy particularly for those experiencing it for the first time. The feeling and thoughts of giving life to another human being and the bonding thereafter with the new-born can be a period of incomparable joy.

However, and sadly, this is not always the case as there is an often-under-reported side of the horrors some mothers go through as they go through the motions and emotions of coping with their bundle of joy. They may find themselves with a severe form of anxiety and a feeling of emptiness during what is supposedly a happy period. Particularly unnerving for them could be societal expectations and people finding out that the mother is not happy and the cause is the birth of the child.

In some cases, some mothers evolve and have bouts of unexplained rage and often wonder what could be the cause of this ugly new side they are not proud of. Post-childbirth is a difficult experience and if not handled properly, there are likely to be challenges with bonding with the newly born and coping with normal home routines. 

Amina, a young mother, found herself increasingly detached from her newly born son and could not quite determine the source of this disinterest. Her anxiety became even more pronounced when she started thinking:
“What will people say if I told them exactly how I am exactly feeling at the moment?” 
“I even hate the very idea of breastfeeding my own son.” 

Thankfully, Amina’s doctor was able to understand her situation and diagnosed her with Postpartum Depression. She was advised that she was not losing her mind as many other women had gone through the same emotions she was battling. She was then made part of a support group of other young mothers who were fighting PPD. 

What is important to note is that Postpartum depression is not a character flaw or a personal weakness. Occasionally, it is simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, quick treatment will often help in managing the symptoms and help mothers bond with their baby.  For mental health practitioners, distinguishing between the two major forms of maternal depression is important as their development and intensity determine the type of help that mothers can access. Mothers can suffer from baby blues symptoms or postpartum depression. PPD should never be ignored. 

What Is Postpartum Depression? 

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious form of depression that occurs after giving birth. It has a range of symptoms which can be quite severe. While the condition needs to be taken seriously, it is generally treatable and apparently quite common with 1 in 8 women experiencing it. In the worst-case scenario, some mothers may even experience suicidal thoughts. 

The Two Major Maternal Depression Conditions Symptoms 

The Signs and symptoms of depression after childbirth vary, and often range from mild to severe. 

1. Baby blues symptoms 

Signs and symptoms of baby blues — which can last only a few days to a week or two after the birth of a baby for the mother may include:

·         Mood swings
·         Anxiety 
·         Sadness
·         Irritability
·         Feeling overwhelmed
·         Crying
·         Reduced concentration
·         Appetite problems
·         Trouble sleeping 

2. Postpartum Depression symptoms 

Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms can be more intense and will generally last longer, possibly in the end interfering with the mother’s ability to care for the baby and cope with other normal daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may have begun earlier ― during the pregnancy ― or later — up to a year after giving birth. 

Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:
·         Depressed mood or severe mood swings
·         Excessive crying 
·         Difficulty bonding with the baby
·         Withdrawing from family and friends
·         Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
·         Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much 
·         Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy 
·         Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
·         Intense irritability and anger 
·         Fear that one is not a good mother 
·         Hopelessness 
·         Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
·         Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions 
·         Severe anxiety and panic attacks 
·         Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby 
·         Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide 
If untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer. 

When to tell your doctor 

If you are feeling depressed after the birth of your child, it may be hard to speak out and one may often be reluctant or embarrassed to admit it. But if you experience any symptoms of postpartum baby blues or postpartum depression, it is crucial that you call your doctor and schedule an appointment. If you have many of the symptoms as previously outlined, it is may be that you may have a more serious condition called postpartum psychosis. It is very important that you seek assistance immediately. 

If the symptoms are persistent, are impacting your personal relationships and your ability to accomplish various responsibilities, or others are clearly noticing them, then more formal treatment is worth trying. There is no shame in advising your doctor or alerting the nursing staff at the clinic as soon as possible.

If you have suicidal thoughts 

If at any point you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, immediately seek help from your partner or loved ones in taking care of your baby and visit the doctor, your nearest clinic or hospital. 

Indeed, maternal depression can impact on the entire family, with significant adverse effects on the health of both the mother and infant. Strong and consistent evidence indicates that a mother’s untreated depression destabilizes young children’s development, and can affect learning, academic success, and success later in life. Maternal depression can cause long-lasting effects on (children’s) brain architecture and can weaken their stress response systems at an important stage of their development and this may not be reversible. Psychotherapy and medications exist to effectively manage the condition. Maternal depression should never be ignored as it often will simply not go away on its own. 

Maternal Depression
maternal depression

About the author 

McDonald Matika teaches in the Department of Psychology at the University of Zimbabwe and can be contacted on [email protected]

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