A study published by the WHO in 2017 found that approximately 1 in 5 new mothers in India suffers from postpartum depression. The seriousness of this mental ailment has not been fully realized due to a myriad of factors including outdated cultural practices, illiteracy, and ignorance of health experts. The physical and emotional changes that happen to a woman during pregnancy and after childbirth bring about a unique type of depression related to the whole situation. A large percentage of women in India are not aware of this particular mental issue and will assume it as part of being a new parent. The problem is that postpartum depression can become a serious mental problem for a mother, sometimes leading to self-harm or even harming the baby.
How and Why Does Postpartum Depression Occur?
A new mother will normally feel joy by bringing a new life to the world. But in some cases, there is a range of negative emotions like fear and anxiety. Postpartum blues is the range of emotions that come after childbirth and last for 2-3 weeks. When this condition deteriorates and lasts for more than 4 weeks, the mother can be said to have postpartum depression. In some cases, postpartum depression kicks in a few months after childbirth. The mother enters a deeper state of mental worry, anxiety, fear, anger, and extreme mood swings.
The occurrence of postpartum depression has been pointed to the presence of some or a combination of the following factors:
- Hormonal changes: There are a variety of hormones at play while a woman is pregnant, to help her carry the baby. After childbirth, more hormonal changes occur to help the mother bond and take good care of the baby. This results in different emotional changes.
- Stress: A new mother may experience mental stressors due to a range of social and economic issues. Preference for boys is for example a big cultural problem for women in India. A mother who was expecting a baby boy but gives birth to a girl may experience feelings of worthlessness, rejection, and anger towards the child.
- Financial stress: It is a reality for many Indian women, especially in poor rural areas. The addition of a new mouth to feed in an already existing bad financial situation may evoke a sense of anxiety and despair.
- Lack of a partner: Women who give birth but do not have partners by their side (single moms) sometimes feel overwhelmed by the situation. The lack of a partner brings on a misplaced sense of low self-esteem, especially if it is a young mother who feels the newborn child is a burden rather than joy and will cause her social stigma.
- Raising a special needs child: This is a big challenge to a woman who may not have the skills and financial capacity to raise such a child.
What are the Risk Factors that Can Lead to Postpartum Depression in Women?
There are some risk factors that raise the likelihood of a woman developing the postpartum depression disorder. If she:
- Is a very young mother unprepared for motherhood
- Is in a troubled marriage
- Lives alone
- Has limited social and financial support
- Already has several children
- Not sure about the pregnancy
- Has a history of the premenstrual dysphoric disorder or menstrual depression
- Is from a family with a history of mental illness as women from such families are at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.
What Are the Signs of Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression shows as a mix of classic depression symptoms and emotional changes that are normally associated with childbirth. These include:
- Sour moods
- Lack of interest in normal fun activities including sex
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
- Constant fatigue
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling overwhelmed and helpless
What are the Complications of Postpartum Depression?
It is important to recognize these signs and get help. This becomes urgent when accompanied by:
- Problems in bonding with the baby. There is a feeling of anger and resentment towards the baby
- Failure to take care of the baby, such as a lack of interest in washing and feeding him or her
- Harmful thoughts of death about self, the child or both
Why Take Postpartum Depression Seriously?
Postpartum depression that goes unchecked can pose a great danger to the wellbeing of the mother, and lead to:
- Deteriorating health of the mother: Loss of appetite when the body most needs nutrition can lead to rapid deterioration in the mother’s physical health.
- Full-blown mental illness: Unchecked postpartum depression can develop into full-blown schizophrenia or mental psychosis.
- Neglect of the baby: A mother who does not bond with the baby is unable to breastfeed as needed, placing the baby at the risk of malnutrition and disease. Neglecting the hygienic care of the baby can lead to infections of the skin and digestive system.
- Marital strain: A spouse who is ignorant of the condition is likely to feel rejected, ignored and neglected, leading to strain in the family and sometimes violence.
- Isolation of other family members: The other children and relatives will feel the mother has become querulous and stay away, isolating the mother even further.
- Suicide and harm to the baby: There are isolated cases when the mother commits suicide or kills the baby or commits suicide after killing the baby.
How Can Postpartum Disorder Be Managed?
Postpartum depression is a serious problem that can affect not only the mother and child, but the others around them. It can lead to a lifelong mental illness for the mother and deprive the child of the love and care he or she deserves. Hence, managing this disorder is important through:
- Reaching out: Building a support network offers social and economic support, relieving the mother of some pressure in dealing with the newborn. Other women who have gone through the same can also offer their experiences.
- Exercising: Staying physically active has benefits in terms of weight management and can also offer mental benefits by lifting the mother’s mood.
- Healthy diets: Following a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can keep the mother mentally fresh and help her feed the baby properly as well, which keeps away problems such as infections or malnutrition.
If you are a new mother experiencing this difficult condition, it is important to get help as fast as you can for your wellbeing as well as that of your child. Medlife e-consult can come to your aid should you require counselling right at home for postpartum depression. Through Medlife e-consult you can book an appointment online with a counselor and/or also a gynecologist of your choice who can provide you with expert guidance on how to counter these issues.
Postpartum depression is a real problem in India. And the sooner you acknowledge it and seek help for it as a new mother the better it will be for you as well as the baby.
Also Read: Common Myths and Facts about Depression