Despite being exhausted from the responsibilities of new motherhood, you lie awake at night worrying about your baby's health and your ability to mother him or her. During the day, you are constantly anxious about harm befalling your baby. You can barely think clearly enough to decide what to have for lunch, and the idea of making any kind of important decision about how to deal with issues that come up for your baby is more than you can stand. You realize that you must be suffering from postpartum depression.
Nearly every book on pregnancy and childbirth warns new mothers of the possibility of postpartum depression (PPD). In order to be diagnosed with PPD, you must suffer from depression, or lack interest in life, for most of the day, every day, for two weeks or more following the birth of a child. An estimated one new mother in ten experiences PPD. The level of depression may be constant, or it may be mild on some days and severe on others.
A diagnosis of PPD is not made unless at least four of the following symptoms are present:
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
- Excessive anxiety.
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness; doubting your own ability to mother or feeling as though you are already a failure at it.
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
- Restlessness or lethargy.
Postpartum depression is often confused with a milder, more fleeting, and more common form of depression known as the "baby blues." From half to three-quarters of all new moms get the blues in the first few days after giving birth. They may burst into tears for no apparent reason or be restless, irritable, and impatient (not so uncalled-for if you are dealing with a crying newborn and stitches in your most sensitive areas). This usually goes away on its own and is often attributed to the psychological letdown after the emotional high of giving birth. However, in many instances, the baby blues or a mild form of depression called dysthymia can be prolonged for months or even years postpartum if nutrient reserves are not replenished.
About one in every thousand women experiences postpartum psychosis, complete with hallucinations, delusions, severe insomnia, agitation, and bizarre behaviors. Rarely, women suffer from postpartum anxiety/panic disorder, which shows up as intense fear, rapid breathing and heart rate, hot or cold flashes, trembling, dizziness, and even chest pain. Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can also occur, although it too is rare. It is more likely to occur in women who have had OCD in the past.
A study of more than 35,000 women showed a sevenfold increase in the likelihood of being hospitalized with a psychiatric illness during the first three months postpartum. Of the approximately 11.4 million women who give birth each year in the United States, it is thought that about 40 percent have to work their way through some sort of mood disorder after giving birth.
Psychiatrists make distinctions among numerous forms of depression. Unipolar or major depression is a very serious form of depression, as is bipolar disorder, which is characterized by severe mood swings. We do not at all suggest that those with these more serious forms of depression depend solely on the nutrients suggested. It is absolutely essential a person with a serious form of depression be under the care of a competent psychiatrist. We do look forward to the day that many more physicians will be educated in the use of the nutritional precursors to the brain neurotransmitters to help support such people nutritionally in addition to using pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Dysthymia, the more mild form of depression mentioned above, affects tens of millions of people, most of them women. Many of those who suffer from dysthymia can be helped by using nutraceuticals (nutrients taken in therapeutic dosages), either alone or as an adjunct to antidepressant drugs. The key here is to know that antidepressant drugs actually deplete the nutritional precursors the brain needs to make its own neurotransmitters and to find a physician experienced in the use of both nutritional and pharmaceutical protocols.