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What is Postpartum Depression?

Many mothers experience a period of melancholy immediately following childbirth, a condition commonly called 'baby blues'. These feelings of hopelessness, fatigue or sadness generally dissipate after a few weeks, however, and the mother/child relationship soon returns to normal. For an estimated 10 to 15% of women, a more serious condition called postpartum depression can become a real problem if not properly diagnosed and treated.

Postpartum depression is actually a meeting of two separate issues. The emotional and hormonal stressors following childbirth collide head-on with the same clinical depression experienced by other men and women under different circumstances. Postpartum depression symptoms are similar to those experienced by other depressives, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, chronic fatigue and mood swings. The problem with diagnosis of postpartum depression is the reluctance of some medical professionals to directly connect clinical depression with the effects of childbirth.

Since feelings of depression and anxiety are common in both men and women immediately following childbirth, most gynecologists and psychiatrists wait several weeks before considering the possibility of true postpartum depression. Treatment may include the same anti-depressant drug regimen prescribed for general depression. Counseling and other social services may also be provided for mothers who become too overwhelmed by the child-rearing experience.

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Studies show that most mothers diagnosed with postpartum depression have a few elements in common. A strong support network is usually non-existent, and marital relations in general are described as strained. Adolescent mothers are more likely to develop postpartum depression, as are those from lower socioeconomic groups. Some fathers are also known to develop postpartum depression, especially if the circumstances surrounding the birth have created economic hardships.

A very small percentage of mothers can actually develop a very serious condition called postpartum psychosis. Under rare conditions, a mother can suffer a psychotic break and actually form thoughts of harming her children or others. This is why physicians take symptoms of postpartum depression very seriously once diagnosed. If the stressors and underlying emotions of the pregnancy are not addressed immediately, the result could be a complete mental breakdown or psychotic episode.

Postpartum depression can be treated successfully as long as the mother and her support network recognize the warning signs and discuss them with a sympathetic medical professional. While some emotional outbursts and depressive thoughts may be perfectly normal, persistent feelings of worthlessness or suicidal thoughts are not. The key is to be honest with your feelings during every postpartum meeting with your family doctor.

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