Post-natal depression is a particular form of a nervous disorder which affects some women 4/5 days after giving birth, lasts for various lengths of time and it can even turn into a real form of depression, which is sometimes accompanied by forms of psychosis.
More than 70% of mothers show mild signs of depression in the days following
birth and the English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott has called
this baby blues. This is, therefore, quite a common reaction and the symptoms include crying
for no apparent reason, irritability, restlessness and anxiety, which all tend
to disappear after a few days.
Symptoms of post-natal depression are more serious and last longer, even up to a year, and they include:
Medical science has not yet provided definite explanations about the causes of this phenomenon, however, some studies attribute the appearance of post-natal depression to hormonal changes in the mother, particularly because of the drop in oestrogen and progesterone, and studies have shown that women who suffer from pain during menstruation are more prone to post-natal depression. In reality, there are many factors that play roles in the onset of post-natal depression, and they are usually of psychological origin relating to events that occurred during labour, the new role the mother has, the new responsibilities she faces and changes to her body which will/have occurred. Symptoms may be mild and can disappear within a few days, however, if they persist, the mother should seek help from a specialist, especially if the depression turns into post-natal psychosis.
In summary, there are three different types of what is commonly, but incorrectly, called post-natal depression:
Also known as post-natal blues, this involves long and frequent panic attacks, states of anxiety and sadness and, although it is a condition of discomfort, it tends to disappear after 15 days at the most. It does not require any particular treatment other than common sense and help from the patient herself and the people around her. It is more common amongst first-time mothers (over 70%).
The symptoms include those listed below and they occur for different lengths of time and in different amounts, but they are more intense than baby blues symptoms. The phenomenon is found in approximately 10% of women who have just given birth, and there is an increase of 30% if these women have been affected by the same depression following a previous birth. The percentage rises significantly in women who have already shown signs of various types of mental disorders. The duration of the symptoms varies from a few weeks to a year, and there is a subsequent risk of it reoccurring. Treatment involves taking antidepressants (thus breastfeeding must stop) and psychotherapy, which should be continued even after the symptoms have disappeared.
This is the most serious form of depression and requires prompt medical assistance. The symptoms consist of states of agitation, confusion, pessimism, social discomfort, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal tendencies or attempts to kill the baby. One in every one thousand mothers is affected by post-natal psychosis and, in some cases, the mother must recover in hospital and follow a series of treatment courses which are adapted to the type of psychosis found in her.
How to prevent post-natal depression
While there are natural ways to prevent post-natal depression, which are related to the physiology of the woman in question, it is possible to prevent or at least reduce, it by acting on a psychological level.
As far as the mother is concerned, it can be very useful, for example, if she limits visitors in the days following the return from the hospital, sleeps when the baby sleeps, follows a proper diet so as to avoid binging and taking stimulants, such as alcohol and coffee, asks for help when she feels the need, maintains contact with friends and family, strengthens the relationship with her partner and, above all, tries to keep a realistic attitude about herself and the child and tries to stay fully aware of the situation, which will of course involve ups and downs, but she should remember that the negative parts will disappear within a few days. As far as the partner or other family members are concerned, they may want to offer to help with housework, alleviating the commitments of the new mother, and show a willingness to listen and offer support, but only if the mother does not mind this.
How to cure post-natal depression
If necessary (that is, if the symptoms are more serious than those described for cases of baby blue), post-natal depression can be dealt with with medical help and in various ways depending on the type and severity of the symptoms. The treatment may consist of taking anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants (under medical supervision and after suspending any breastfeeding), psychotherapy and participation in group therapy with women who are experiencing the same symptoms.
When to turn to a specialist
Seek help if the symptoms are alarming, persist for more than two weeks, if you/the mother feels she may harm herself or the child and/or if symptoms of anxiety, fear and panic occur frequently each day.