Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
Living in rural areas or underdeveloped remote areas, one's quality of life is highly affected compared to those who live in urbanized and developed areas. For women, who have just given birth for the first time (or the 9th time), it is difficult and in some rural areas, close to impossible to receive postnatal care and support needed to effectively care for both the infant and the mother. The effects of this lack of support, information, and care consequently lead to conditions such as postpartum depression going unnoticed and untreated.
I have a friend who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl three months ago and she called me shaking from anxiety and panic because she accidentally dropped her baby while holding her. She kept telling me how she felt like she was careless and not a good mother. Caring for a baby is not as easy as it might seem. There are so many questions one can ask. Questions like; Is the baby still okay? Am I feeding him/her enough? Am I doing things the right way? Am I even ready for this? It can be overwhelming and difficult.
What is meant by postpartum depression?
Although the birth of a child is considered a blessing and can bring joy and excitement. It can also, on many occasions aggravate overwhelming emotions of fear, guilty and anxiety. When a woman who has just given birth experiences symptoms of deep sadness, exhaustion, and feeling anxious in such a way that they obstruct the normal daily functioning of the mother (such as caring for themselves and the baby), it is referred to as a postpartum depression.
For some moms, the mild sadness, crying and stress may last for a few weeks. Or come and go like my friend's symptoms. But for others, it is a battle that may affect them for an extended period. It is important to differentiate between postpartum depression that needs medical intervention and “baby blues”. Baby blues refers to sadness due to lack of sleep, tiredness, and general anxiety that happens with most new mothers as they adjust to their new reality. Unlike postpartum depression however, the baby blues only last 1 to 2 weeks after birth. Whereas postpartum depression often lasts longer. And the symptoms are much worse.
What are the risk factors?
Besides poverty or lack of social and/or healthcare support, which I mentioned earlier. Other contributing factors to this ailment include a history of depression before pregnancy or during the period of pregnancy, poor relationship with a partner, single marital status, pregnancy complications, low self-esteem, and low socioeconomic status.
Is postpartum depression preventable?
Like every other mental illness, you can reduce the risk of having postpartum depression by eliminating the risk factors. For example, preparing yourself (mentally and physically) for pregnancy and childbirth by seeking help and assistance can ease fear and anxiety.
Ask questions about anything and everything. Even if it may sound stupid or insignificant. Always find ways to educate yourself (using trusted sources). Exercising, getting sufficient sleep whenever possible, and eating nutritious food will help your body keep healthy and retain your confidence.
Unlike Baby blues or postpartum blues that only need reassurance or talking therapy. Postpartum depression is a serious disorder and needs medical intervention. In most severe cases, affected mothers require hospitalization as part of the treatment and/or therapy.
What to do if you recognize the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression in yourself or someone close to you?
One of the contributing factors to postpartum depression is lack of support. Therefore, the first thing you would want to do is to assure the mother that you are there for her. While doing so, just like any other mental health disorder, be careful not to use a judgmental tone or to draw conclusions or to diagnose her. Some of the recommended ways to support the affected mother who has postpartum depression as outlined by Lisa Coxon are:
- Make it about her not the baby.
- Stop trying to solve her problems.
- Offer to go to the doctor's appointments with her.
- Don't ask what you can do, just do it if you can and where you see the need.
- Celebrate her success. Even small ones.
Bringing a human being into the world alone is a big victory. You should already be proud of yourself. Also remember that as familydoctor.org points out “your body has just done one of the most remarkable things it will ever do: grow another human being. After 9 months of waiting, you are probably excited to finally be home with your new baby. Much of your focus and energy during the coming weeks and months will be on the baby but remember that you also need to take care of yourself, too”.