Finding out that you are pregnant can bring a wide range of emotions. The spectrum can vary from joy and excitement, to fear, anxiety and stress. During the nine months of pregnancy, a woman can expect hormonal and physical changes to occur.
Once you have gone through labor and delivery, breastfeeding and care taking of a newborn can bring an additional level of worry and stress. This period can be emotionally and physically draining on a woman and it is common to experience baby blues, or even postpartum depression. Several studies suggest that women are vulnerable to sudden changes in their hormones during this period, which can trigger the onset of depressive symptoms.
Postpartum blues differ from postpartum depression. Depression is a disorder that can be categorized if the symptoms persist for longer than two weeks. This is when the mother will require medical attention. Postpartum depression is a mood disorder presenting with symptoms that can occur immediately after birth and up to one year after delivery. Undiagnosed depression during pregnancy is the number one risk factor for postpartum depression. Untreated depression during pregnancy or after delivery can have a permanent impact on the cognitive and emotional development of the infant.
A mother with postpartum depression will experience at least five of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:
• Persistent sadness;
• Poor bonding with the baby or lack of interest in all activities;
• Weight changes;
• Sleep problems;
• Loss of energy;
• Lack of concentration or inability to focus attention;
• Recurring thoughts of death; and
• Physical symptoms, such as pain or fatigue.
Depressive disorders are treatable conditions, especially if they are identified early during pregnancy or after delivery. If you have or your family have a history of depressive disorders, you should let your doctor know as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Your doctor can then monitor you closely for signs and symptoms of depression. After delivery, screening for symptoms of depression is recommended. Mild depressive disorders can benefit from a support group or therapy, whereas moderate to severe depression may need a combination of antidepressants and therapy.
The duration of treatment varies from one patient to another. This can also depend on the severity of depression, any underlying medical illness (for example thyroid dysfunction), co-existing or related conditions, a past history of mood disorders, family history and your support system.
In addition to professional treatment, you can help yourself by:
• Leading a healthier lifestyle — try and get adequate rest, engage in physical activities that you enjoy and eat healthy;
• Taking time for yourself. This can be done through arranging for a babysitter, scheduling time with your partner or friends, and reducing the pressure on yourself to take care of everything; and
• Ask for help when you need it. Open up to your family and close friends when you need their support without feeling guilty or ashamed of your feelings. Your family members are more perceptive than you realize, and can recognize your depressive symptoms and guide you if you need professional help.
Dr Shaden Adel is a specialist psychiatrist at Maudsley Health, Abu Dhabi.