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Life After Baby: Suffering From Postpartum Depression?

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Life After Baby: Suffering From Postpartum Depression? 

By Dr. Danielle Grenier 

Q: How do I know if I have postpartum depression? If I do, will it affect my baby?

A: Depression is an illness that affects the way people think, act and feel. About 6% of women will experience depression at some time during their lives. This number increases to about 10% (1 in 10) for women who are pregnant.

Women are more at risk of depression while they are pregnant and during the weeks and months after having a baby. During pregnancy, hormone changes can affect brain chemicals and cause depression and anxiety. Sometimes pregnant women don't realize they are depressed. They may think they have symptoms of pregnancy or the "baby blues," which many women experience right after birth.

It's also important to know that as many as 10% of fathers also experience postpartum depression after the birth of a child. The good news is that depression can be treated. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following signs and let your partner and family members know the signs so that they can also be aware. If you don't get help, depression can cause problems for you and your baby or child.

Depression can come on slowly. The symptoms are different for everyone and can be mild, moderate or severe. Some of the more common signs are:

  • Changes in appetite: eating too much or having little interest in food.
  • Changes in sleep, such as trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Feeling sad, hopeless or worthless.
  • Crying for no reason.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you normally enjoy.

New moms with depression may have trouble caring for their babies. Or they might not want to spend time with their baby, which can lead to a baby who cries a lot.

If you have depression while you are pregnant, you may have trouble caring for yourself.

Depression during pregnancy can also lead to:

  • miscarriage
  • delivering before the due date (preterm) 
  • giving birth to a small baby (low birth weight)

The "baby blues" is a mild form of depression that many new moms experience. It usually starts one to three days after giving birth and can last for 10 days to a few weeks. With baby blues, many women have mood swings - happy one minute and crying the next. They may feel anxious, confused or have trouble eating or sleeping. Up to 80% of new moms have the baby blues. It's common and will go away on its own.

If depression during pregnancy isn't treated, it can lead to postpartum depression, a serious condition that can last for months after giving birth. About 13% of new mothers will experience postpartum depression. You are at a greater risk if you have a family history of depression or have had depression before. It can affect your health and how well you bond with your baby.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • feeling like you can't care for your baby
  • extreme anxiety or panic attacks
  • trouble making decisions
  • feeling very sad
  • hopelessness, and
  • feeling out of control

No one knows exactly what causes postpartum depression. If you think you have the symptoms, it's important to get help right away. Postpartum depression needs to be treated. Talk to your doctor or call your local public health office.

Depression is treatable. But if it is not treated, it will affect your children. Moms who are depressed may have trouble caring for their children. They may be loving one minute and withdrawn the next. They may not respond at all to their children, or respond in a negative way. Your feelings and your behaviour will affect your ability to care for your children.

Depression can also affect attachment, which is important for your child's development. Attachment is a deep emotional bond that a baby forms with the person who provides most of his care (usually the mother). A "secure attachment" develops quite naturally. A mother responds to her crying infant, offering whatever she feels her baby needs - feeding, a diaper change, cuddling. Secure attachment helps protect against stress and is an important part of a baby's long-term emotional health. It makes a baby feel safe and secure, and helps him learn to trust other people.

If you're depressed, you may have trouble being loving and caring with your baby all the time. This can lead to an "insecure attachment," which can cause problems later in childhood. How a mother's depression affects her child depends on the child's age.

Babies who don't develop a secure attachment may:

  • have trouble interacting with their mother (they may not want to be with their mother, or may be upset when with them);
  • have problems sleeping;
  • may be delayed in their development;
  • have more colic;
  • be quiet or become passive, or
  • develop skills or reach developmental milestones later than other babies.

Toddlers and preschoolers whose mothers are depressed may:

  • be less independent;
  • be less likely to socialize with others;
  • have more trouble accepting discipline;
  • be more aggressive and destructive, or
  • not do as well in school.

School-aged children may:

  • have behaviour problems;
  • have trouble learning;
  • have a higher risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); 
  • not do as well in school, or have a higher risk of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

With treatment, most people recover from depression. Treatment can include one or more of the following:

Medication: Drugs used most often to treat depression are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and tricyclic antidepressants.

Individual therapy: Talking one-on-one with a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or other professional.

Family therapy: With your partner and/or children. This can help when children are older.

Social support: Community services or parenting education.

Dr. Danielle Grenier is a general paediatrician in the Ottawa area. She is Medical Affairs Director for the Canadian Paediatric Society.

For more information on your child's growth and development, get answers from Canada's paediatric experts www.caringforkids.cps.ca. You can also find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/caringforkids.cps.ca and on Twitter @CaringforKids.

What can you do?

  • Remind yourself this is not your fault. It is normal and you are not alone.
  • Talk to your partner and family about how you are feeling.
  • Don't try to do everything. Ask for help.
  • Take care of yourself. Rest when your baby does. Try to get as much sleep as possible. Eat healthy foods and be active.
  • Get help. Join the MOMS support group or go for counselling.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications.
  • Call Ottawa Public Health Information 613-580-6744 ext. 28020 / Toll free 1-866-426-8885.
  • Call the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region at 613-238-3311. Open 24 hours a day to provide immediate support.

Do you have more questions?