By Christopher Barry
It’s estimated that worldwide, some 10 to 15 per cent of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression. According to studies, having a strong social network – both online and in real life – can help mothers cope with this common medical concern.
A darker shade of baby blues
Postpartum depression is not to be confused with what’s come to be known as the postpartum “baby blues”, which is common to 80 percent of women after giving birth, usually beginning within the first three days after delivery and sometimes lasting as long as two weeks.
The baby blues are typically characterized by mood swings, anxiety, crying spells, irritability and insomnia, and while undeniably unpleasant, the condition is temporary, very common, and doesn’t present any long-term health concerns.
Postpartum depression, however, is a different story, being a more severe, long-lasting affliction linked to the chemical, social, and psychological changes associated with having a baby. While similar to the baby blues, its symptoms are considerably more intense and can eventually interfere with a mother’s ability to take proper care of her newborn or simply perform basic daily tasks.
Among other emotional negatives, it can manifest itself in many ways:
- excessive crying
- difficulty bonding with the child
- social withdrawal
- frequent feelings of guilt, inadequacy, worthlessness and shame that are sometimes overwhelming.
While postpartum depression is unquestionably a serious condition, its symptoms can nevertheless be addressed through medication and therapy. And while it’s a terrible experience to live through, it could still be worse; approximately one out of every thousand new mothers will experience an even more intense yet similar postpartum condition classified as postpartum psychosis.
The onset of postpartum psychosis usually begins within the first week after childbirth and symptoms include paranoia, hallucinations, delusional thoughts, excessive agitation, and as is common to psychosis in general, sometimes leads to self-harm or mothers deliberately harming their newborns. Given the condition can be life-threatening, it’s crucial that new mothers showing signs of postpartum psychosis be guided towards professional treatment immediately.
Age and incidence of postpartum depression
It’s long been bandied about that the older a woman is when she gives birth the more likely she is to suffer postpartum depression, and the more intense it’s likely be. In an age where oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) has grown more common and women are having children later in life in general, this is an increasingly relevant concern.
Fortunately, however, studies have shown that age alone does not increase the risk of postpartum depression. Not directly, at least. However, the risk of a complicated pregnancy does increase as a woman ages, with some age-related issues like multiple births resulting from fertility drugs having been shown to increase the risk of postpartum depression.