Parenthood is one of the most rewarding, yet hardest jobs anyone can ask for. Remembering the time when you first discovered that a new life was beginning inside you, all women go through a variety of emotions. Elation, relief, giddiness and wonder. And then it alternates with panic and worry. And you ride that wave for the 9 months until the arrival of your baby. That moment, women become mothers. Mothers become grandmothers. And you no longer are only responsible for yourself but also for a tiny sweet human being. Your baby.
That time immediately following is usually a whirlwind fog. Needing to feed, diaper, swaddle and love on your baby while balancing visits from family and friends and trying to take care of yourself. It usually takes a good 2 months to feel like you are coming out of the daze. Babies begin to have more regular sleep-wake cycles and mommy-baby have established a routine of feeding, bonding, diapering. It is also around this time that infant’s begin to start smiling. That smile–Wow. It is like a winning lottery ticket and all those sleepless days and nights that seemed endless begin to feel like a distant memory. Funny how something as cute and simple as a baby’s smile can reap such love and pride.
But not everyone feels this way. Some mothers just have a sensation that something is “off”. Something just isn’t quite right and yet that tiny feeling you hope to go away in a few days… doesn’t. And despite this sweet and beautiful baby looking up at you, somehow the feelings that comes along with being a new mother isn’t what you expected. These could be warning signs of postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is unique from other forms of depression because anxiety is often a big part of the feelings.
As a mother of two, I have not experienced PPD but I have seen the effects of PPD and other forms of depression on children in my clinic. PPD can cause tremendous emotional burden on the mother or parent (yes, dads can get depressed too!) and if depression goes untreated…that is when it has a true potential of having negative effects on babies and children.
I have done studies showing that children with a depressed parent are at higher risk of developmental delays (click here for more) and behavioral issues (more: click here) starting as early as preschool.
I have been thinking a lot about how to improve pediatricians’ detection of PPD and maternal depression and what we can do about it. More and more pediatricians and obstetricians, home visiting providers and nurses are asking mothers about symptoms of PPD. Yet, there is so much more work that needs to be done. Not just because we can and should but because we know that helping a parent get treatment is a win-win for all. Side note: ‘Treatment’ doesn’t only mean medications, it can also mean therapy and other family supports too).
The earlier PPD is detected, the better. A majority of mothers who will experience PPD will have symptoms between 2 and 4 months, and sometimes even at 6 months. It is tricky, though, because PPD can pop up anytime in the first 12 months after the birth of a baby.
If you recently had a baby, I hope your doctor and your child’s doctor have asked you about your mood and how you are coping. Asking is half the battle. Having an invitation to talk, especially if it comes from someone the mother trusts and feels safe talking with about these unsettling feelings, can be the opening needed to get help.
There are wonderful organizations out there bringing these stories to light. If you have not checked out their webpages, do so. Mothers, fathers, supporting family and providers can learn together what the warning signs are.
- Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net)
- Postpartum Progress (www.postpartumprogress.com)
- Coping with Perinatal and Postpartum Depression (podcast)
- Managing Maternal Depression Before and After Birth
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