Mr Okoro Jonathan (not real name) walked into my clinic for consultation looking worn out, dejected and sad. On talking with him I realised his wife Nneka was pregnant and delivered 3 weeks ago of a bouncing baby boy, Chika. Mr Jonathan had also been having difficulty sleeping, unable to concentrate at a job he started just a week before as he was given a 2 week paternity leave to stay home with his wife and new baby.
Adaora Jegede (not real name) whom I also saw in my clinic, said after having her baby last year, began to experience a decreasing desire to make love with her husband, crying most times, and had no interest in taking care of or even carrying her first baby Morenike. Even after resuming work from her 4 months maternity leave, she had been unable to concentrate at work.
From the scenarios presented above, they both have one thing in common which is pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnancy can be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, but after the baby is born, lots of changes occur in a new mom’s body. This can lead lots of different emotions in both parents, ranging from excitement and delight to anxiety and depression- The type of depression whereby a parent of either sex begins to exhibit signs of clinical depression in the aftermath of their baby’s birth is what is referred to as postpartum or postnatal depression. . Postpartum depression or PPD usually begins 2 to 4 weeks after the birth of the child and may last up to a year even.
Postpartum depression, also known as PPD, is a type of depression that occurs in new mothers mostly after delivery (as can occur in fathers). A combination of biological and emotional factors may lead to this problem. The exact cause for this phenomenon is not yet established though hormonal changes post birthing are linked to it in women. The levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body, changes dramatically after delivery. These hormones are linked with neurotransmitters (chemicals secreted by the body) that affect a person’s mood and the chemical fluctuations can increase the risk of postpartum depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post Partum Depression occurs in almost 15 percent of births. It can start shortly before or after childbirth. Commonly, it usually begins between a week and a month following delivery.
Major symptoms of postpartum depression include feelings of being overwhelmed, intense anxiety, frequent crying or weeping, irritability or anger, sadness, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, changes in sleeping or eating habits, lack of concentration, and intense worry about the baby or on the flip side, a lack of interest in the newborn. It can also cause physical symptoms, such as headaches, chest pains or hyperventilation, mood swings, loss of libido, social withdrawal, fatigue and exhaustion.
WHAT’S THE RIGHT WAYS TO DEAL WITH IT?
As prolonged depression may be harmful for the health of the new mother, father and child, it is important to consult a doctor immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms. But some common ways to deal with Post Partum Depression include:
- Vitamin D which we can get spending time in the sun (15-20minutes daily), especially in the mornings. Morning walks will do well.
- Consuming Omega 3 rich foods examples chicken, nuts like walnuts, fish, eggs yolk, milk, whole grain foods like rice, peas, beans. Its supplements are also readily available.
- Breastfeeding- Mothers with postpartum depression may be less likely to breastfeed. It is important however, for the partner or other family members to help new moms understand the importance of breastfeeding. To build this strong emotional bond, breastfeeding is the best option.
- Talking with others as frequently as possible and if need be, talk to a trained talk therapist known as a psychologist who is not a family member, or to close friends… These talks could last up to 4 or 6 months.
- Massage- A warm massage goes a long way in pampering your body. Also helps to reduce physical pain and stress. Other benefits include hormone regulation, reduced swelling and better sleep. Along with that, attending a baby massage (with your baby) under the supervision of your partner or an expert can even help fight postpartum depression. It helps depressed mothers bond better with their newborns.
- Acupuncture as used in the old days where thin needles are inserted at specific vital pressure points in the body, helps maintain equilibrium of the various hormones in the body. It can even give the mother a boost of energy to replenish the energy depleted during childbirth. Also, it helps resolve pain and improve thyroid function.
- A psychiatrist is needed sometimes to help in the management of such clients.
Mr Jonathan and Adaora did get the right advice and treatment with the actions as listed above and are doing quite well!
Dr Ifeyinwa M. Okafor works at the Department of Community Health, Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki (FETHA), Ebonyi State, Nigeria.