What is Postnatal Depression? Signs and Risk Factors

Postnatal depression is estimated to affect 1 in 5 women and is found in all cultural, social and age groups. There are different types of this condition experienced by mothers after birth. There is the ‘Baby Blues’ which usually occurs between the 3rd and 5th day and usually resolve by the 10th day. It is thought to be the response to hormone changes and the stress of giving birth and occurs in up to 70% of women.

  • Postnatal depression has a gradual onset between the 3rd and 9th month.
  • Postpartum Psychosis occurs in approximately 1 in 500 births and is quite rare. It seems to be genetically linked and typically occurs after the first baby. It presents as a manic depressive illness and requires urgent psychiatric treatment.

This condition results in a disturbance of mood, disturbance of thoughts and physiological disturbances. These disturbances and symptoms of postnatal depression will be discussed:

Disturbance of Mood

This includes the experience of a depressed mood, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, failure, shame, guilt, fear, anger and panic. Feelings of fatigue and exhaustion and the loss of sexual desire.

Disturbance of Thoughts

Poor concentration, loss of ability to plan and carry through tasks, poor memory, confused thinking, intrusive thoughts (eg thoughts of serious illness or death of self, baby or partner).

Physiological disturbance

The mother may experience sleep disorder such as difficulty falling asleep, early morning waking, always fatigued and exhausted. She may also experience stress symptoms such as panic attacks, tightness in the chest and stomach. Appetite changes, either a loss of appetite or overeating may be experienced.

Risk Factors

A number of factors are thought to contribute to postnatal mood disorders. Current research indicates that psychological, biochemical and environmental or social factors affect the onset of postnatal depression.

There are a number of factors that predispose a woman to this condition. One of the most significant risk factors is having a previous psychiatric illness or emotional problems. Women who have previously had depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are at a greater risk.

Obstetric and gynecological problems impact a mother’s physical health and can impact her emotional well being. This can include caesarean birth, permittivity, previous miscarriage, previous termination of pregnancy, neonatal death, and previous history of infertility.

If the baby or mother has problems post birth this can also increase the possibility of postnatal depression. Problems such as the baby experiencing gastric reflux, excessive crying, breastfeeding problems, sleep deprivation, low iron levels.

In addition environmental and relationship factors can impact a mother and predispose her to postnatal depression. Lack of support from ones partner or own mother can be significant. This may be through death, separation or conflict in the relationship. Furthermore a mother’s isolation from extended family or friendship network can impact postnatal depression. This can be significant particularly for first time mothers who may shift from a busy life in full time work to being isolated at home. Women who would describe themselves as high achievers or perfectionists are at greater risk of postnatal depression as are women with anxious personalities. Finally if the woman experiences multiple stressors in her past or present life these may contribute to the onset of postnatal depression.

Recognizing the Basic Symptoms of Depression

Depression symptoms are often overlooked. It can be highly detrimental to your physical and mental health to ignore these signs. Depression can often be dealt with if you know what you are looking for. There are treatment options such as therapy and even medications that can help to take the edge off. If you suspect that you, a friend or a loved one is suffering from depression, these are the depression symptoms to look for.

The first of the symptoms is extreme sadness or excessive crying. A person suffering from this symptom will often state that they do not know why they are upset or crying. They may even feel overwhelmed and that everything is going wrong. It may even seem to someone on the outside that they are unnecessarily upset or that they are making a big deal out of nothing at all. It is very important to not dismiss their feelings or to tell them that they are being silly because this can make the depression symptoms even worse.

People who are suffering from depression symptoms may also lose interest in things that they once loved to do. This change may be as drastic as a cheerleader who no longer loves the sport all of the sudden or as subtle as a person who once loved to read not even wanting to do that anymore. The common misconception in this area is that the once loved activity may be a group activity. In fact this symptom can also include activities that are performed alone.

Change in appetite and weight are also very common depression symptoms. These symptoms can be displayed in different ways. A person suffering from these depression symptoms can either go through excessive eating and weight gain or can go the other way with loss of appetite and losing a lot of weight. These depression symptoms in particular are very important to deal with because they can lead to very dangerous eating disorders such as bulimia, bingeing and purging as well as anorexia.

Sleeping problems are another form of depression symptoms. A depressed person may be sleeping excessively or not enough. It may feel like you just cannot get enough sleep no matter how much you sleep. It is not uncommon for a depressed person to sleep for what seems like days at a time in stretches of 12 hours or even more. Lack of sleep is also a symptom of depression. You may find it hard to sleep and may even stay awake for days despite the trying to sleep. Sleep patterns may be broken and restless leading to fatigue and irritability.

If you are feeling any of these depression symptoms talk to a friend, loved one or seek professional help. Symptoms of depression are often experienced in different combinations. The above afflictions are just a few of the symptoms of depression. Depression is a disease and there are treatments. There is no reason to feel ashamed to admit that you may need help.