Postpartum Depression

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The birth of a baby is usually associated with family joy, food and celebration, gifts and pictures and everlasting memories for the entire family and friends. However, in some cases, mothers may experience mood difficulties shortly after birth, impairing the ability to feel joy and function. They may even feel detached from their babies. These difficulties, often called “baby blues,” are normal responses and may last a few days. However, sometimes they may become mental health problems where mothers experience more severe mood changes and difficult thoughts about the baby or motherhood. These symptoms are known as Postpartum Depression.

Postpartum Depression: The Facts

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), Postpartum depression is when a patient has depressive symptoms after birthing or within four weeks. Mothers may experience all symptoms of postpartum or only a few. Specific Postpartum Depression is different from Major Depressive Disorder or “common” depression symptoms and includes:

  • Lack of interest in the baby or not feeling bonded to the baby
  • Feelings of being a “bad mother”
  • Fear of harming the baby or oneself
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Sleep or appetite problems
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling worthless / guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

The Numbers

Approximately 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023) in the U.S. and other studies,

  • 52% of the new mothers had postpartum symptoms (Zayas, Jankowski, and McKee, 2003)
  • 35% of 604 Latina mothers had major depressive symptoms immediately after giving birth (Yonkers et al., 2001)

The statistics showcase that it is normal to have symptoms of depression shortly after birth.

Myth: Postpartum depression is very rare and is a strange case.

Fact: Postpartum depression and its symptoms are very common.

Postpartum Risks 

As per the American Psychological Association (2020), the risk of having postpartum depression remains fully understood, but some include:

  • family history of depression or postpartum depression
  • hormonal difficulties during and after pregnancy
  • sleep problems
  • parental or marital stress
  • personal history or untreated depression during pregnancy

It is worth highlighting that these challenging thoughts, low mood, and difficulty with caring for the baby are not the mother’s fault (or the baby’s). It is not a sign of “being a bad mother” but rather part of a natural hormonal response to the birthing process. The symptoms of depression are normal. If you think you may have these symptoms, speak to your care provider to seek further help.

Myth: It’s your fault.

Fact: Symptoms of depression after birth are normal, and postpartum depression is very common and treatable.

Ways to Help and to Find Help

Some helpful tips include:

  • Support from other family members, including non-judgmental listening, can foster a sense of unity and trust to empower the mother.
  • Joining a mom’s support group can help mothers connect with others struggling with similar symptoms or problems.
  • Good nutrition, a good night’s sleep, and exercise can help reduce the symptoms.
  • Connecting with friends can help mothers remain socially active and practice healthy self-care.

Mental health professionals carry out treatments; sometimes, psychiatric medication may supplement psychotherapy. However, you can also practice the above tips to improve your well-being.

Myth: There is no help or little help; there is no way to improve.

Fact: There are plenty of evidence-based individual, group, and family treatments for postpartum depression.

Message to the Public 

Many mothers go undiagnosed because they may be ashamed to be seen as “weak” or “unable to parent their child.” It is estimated that nearly 50% of mothers with postpartum depression are not diagnosed by a health professional. Therefore, it is essential to highlight that postpartum depression is not a reflection of personal weakness or a sign of a flaw. We encourage families to seek professional help to improve the quality of life for the entire family unit – especially the new mothers.

Resources 

National Maternal Mental Health Hotline – Call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – Call 988

Tropical Texas Hotline: 877-289-7199

(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Gabriela Rosales, Andrea I. Salinas, Jumairy Campos, Andy Torres, Frances Morales, & Amanda Palomin)

 

Dr. Alfonso Mercado