It’s no secret that having a baby is a life-changing event. What many don’t realise though, is just how tough those first few months can be for new mothers. In addition to the crowded social calendar and adjusting to feedings every few hours, your hormones are going through a roller coaster ride. You’re not getting much sleep, your body is still healing and you might feel like you’re not cut out for this whole motherhood gig.
Put simply, you might be experiencing perinatal depression.
What is perinatal depression? It’s a type of clinical depression that can happen during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. According to the American Psychological Association, 1 in 7 women experience depression during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. And it’s not just the mother who feels it – partners and other family members may feel its effects as well. The good news is that perinatal depression is treatable and even preventable.
Here are some signs that you might be experiencing perinatal depression:
- You feel overwhelmed or hopeless
- You have trouble sleeping or you can’t sleep at all, even when your baby is sleeping soundly through the night
- Your appetite has changed; you either can’t stomach certain foods or you have an insatiable appetite
- You’re easily irritated or quick to anger
- Your self-esteem takes a hit; you feel like a bad mother or think everyone would be better off without you
- You have no interest or motivation to do things you used to enjoy
- You withdraw from friends and family members
- You have intrusive thoughts about harming yourself or your baby
What causes perinatal depression?
While the cause of perinatal depression isn’t fully understood, there are some risk factors that can make a woman more susceptible, such as:
- A personal history of depression
- A lack of support from family and friends during pregnancy and after childbirth
- Stressful life events during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, such as financial problems, relationship difficulties, illness or injury
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy and after childbirth
- Sleep deprivation
- A history of abuse
What are the consequences of untreated perinatal depression?
If left untreated, perinatal depression can have serious consequences for both mother and child. Women who experience perinatal depression are more likely to have symptoms of anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder – they’re also at greater risk for substance abuse.
Untreated perinatal depression has been linked to preterm labour, low birth weight and infant mortality. Babies of mothers who experience perinatal depression are more likely to have delays in social and emotional development, and they may also be at increased risk for developing behavioural problems. This is why it’s so important to seek help if you think you might be struggling with perinatal depression.
Speak to your doctor about what you’re feeling; he or she can screen you for depressive symptoms and provide treatment options. There are also many helpful resources available online, which can offer reproductive mental health education, prevention and treatment services worldwide.
Remember, you’re not alone – and help is available
With proper treatment, most women with perinatal depression start to feel better within a few weeks. So hang in there – the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter every day!