by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016
What is Postpartum Depression?
When depression occurs after pregnancy it is called postpartum depression, peripartum depression and sometimes is more commonly known as “baby blues” After pregnancy, the many hormonal changes occurring within a woman's body may trigger symptoms of depression.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
While pregnant, the amount estrogen and progesterone increases greatly in a woman’s body. And within the first day after the birth of her child that amount decreases very rapidly back to the normal level of both of these female hormones. It is believed that the rapid return to normal, pre-pregnancy hormonal levels may lead to depression.
It is also possible that levels of thyroid hormones may drop after giving birth. The thyroid helps to regulate your body’s metabolism rates. For some, low thyroid function can cause noticeable symptoms of depression including changes in mood, decreased interest in activities, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, and weight gain. There is a simple blood test which can be administered to determine if low thyroid function may be causing depressive symptoms.
What Factors Contribute to Postpartum Depression?
After having a baby you may feel tired, have broken sleep patterns and just not feel well rested. It is also very easy to feel overwhelmed with a new baby to care for as well as, the worry and stress that you may not be doing everything perfectly.
For some there is a strong feeling of loss including the loss of your own personal identity, loss of your pre-pregnancy figure and not feeling as attractive. In addition having less free time for yourself, your partner or spouse and social time with your friends can all contribute to feelings of depression.
What are the symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
If you feel restless or irritable, sad, hopeless or overwhelmed, find that you are crying very often, have little energy or motivation, have trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions, you may be experiencing depression. Other symptoms of depression include eating too little or too much and sleeping too little or too much. Also feelings of guilt or being worthless, withdrawal from friends and family or loss of interest in fun activities are signals that you may be experiencing the baby blues. If any of these symptoms last for a period longer than two weeks you should seek some medical advice. For some new moms, signs of postpartum depression may also include being afraid of hurting their baby or not having any interest in their new little one.
What Should I do if I think I am experiencing Postpartum Depression?
First, don’t feel embarrassed. Many women don’t tell anyone about their symptoms because they feel shamed or guilty. The baby blues can happen to anyone. It does not mean that you’ve done anything wrong. You and your baby do not need to suffer through the symptoms you are experiencing. First speak to your physician to inquire if your symptoms may be associated with depression. You have many options available to help treat your symptoms. Some physicians are quick to prescribe medical treatments including antidepressant medication. This is not always the best first choice. Women who are breastfeeding should speak with their physician regarding the risks of taking antidepressant medicines. For many women meeting with a support group and talking about their symptoms with other moms and a licensed clinical social worker can provide enormous help and support. There has also been quite a body of research that supports bodywork and massage therapy as an effective treatment for depression.
A growing body of research indicates that massage therapy helps to increase the level of Oxytocin (feel good hormone) in our bodies and decrease levels of Cortisol (hormone which causes stress).
Research conducted by the Touch Research Institute in Miami shows that mothers who received massage therapy were less depressed and less anxious both by their own report and based on behavior observations. In addition, their Cortisol levels were lower and their serotonin levels were higher, indicating they were less stressed and less depressed.
And not only does touch therapy benefit mothers who experience depression, babies benefit too! Infants of depressed mothers showed more eye contact when adults, who were smiling and cooing, also touched them as compared to infants who received smiling and cooing without touch, and the infant’s positive attentiveness increased through the use of this loving touch.
Some other helpful tips to help eliminate depressive symptoms:
- Try to get as much rest as possible.
- Don’t be shy about asking for help with the household chores.
- Talk to others about how you are feeling.
- Try not to spend time alone. Go out and take a walk or spend time with friends or family.
- Find and join a support group for women with depression.
- Talk with other mothers, so you can share your experience and learn from theirs as well.
Depression not only affects the mother but the entire family. Researchers believe that postpartum depression can affect the baby by contributing to delays in their language development, problems with emotional bonding to others, behavioral problems, lower activity levels and sleep problems.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, don’t suffer alone, tell someone and seek the help you need as soon as possible.
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