Understanding postpartum depression

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I wanted to be happy when my first child was born.

And, of course, at first I was. There was that wonderful first moment when the doctors handed her to me, a tiny little bundle with the tiniest hands and feet that I had ever seen. She was so soft and fragile and so very mine. I fell hard and fast.

Unlike in the movies though, the story didn’t end with that tender split-second moment. After all of the cooing and congratulations died down, after friends stopped sending emails gushing about how she was just so beautiful, I returned to a much harsher reality.

My husband and I were relatively recent transplants to Thailand at the time and the country still felt foreign to me. I never knew how to interpret the many-faceted smiles around me and the language sounded absurd rolling off of my tongue. I met many acquaintances quickly, but none of them were a substitute for the deep-rooted friendships that I had built up over the course of years back home. Before long, my husband’s vacation time ran out and he went back to working a 50-plus hour week, leaving me mostly alone with one little newborn and too little sleep.

The worst part was that I couldn’t fully account for my creeping sense of despair. Everyone who visited or Skyped kept telling me, “You must be overjoyed!” when I was crying in secret almost everyday. I felt guilty for not feeling the things I was expected to feel, which only made everything worse.

Although I felt completely alone during this difficult period, the truth is that postpartum depression is a common condition that many new mothers experience. Understanding the problem helped me work towards overcoming it.

Why do some women suffer from postpartum depression?

There are different reasons for the so-called baby blues. One of them is often simply the shift in hormone levels after birth. During pregnancy, your body is flooded with elevated levels of progesterone and estrogen, which subside after the child is delivered. Your body also undergoes changes in metabolism, blood pressure, immune system and blood volume which can leave you feeling exhausted.

Hormonal shifts don’t account for everything though. Most new moms are under a whole lot of pressure, both from themselves and from others, to thrive in a very difficult situation. Society expects new mothers to be nurturing, loving and… well, basically perfect. It doesn’t help that new babies usually only sleep for a couple of hours at a time, leaving parents to cope with sleep deprivation and round-the-clock responsibilities.

What are some coping strategies?

Although it may feel impossible, force yourself to adopt a healthy daily routine. Make at least a moderate form of exercise (talk to your doctor about which exercises are suitable soon after birth) part of your daily plan. Eat a balanced diet of healthy foods including plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, protein and veggies.

Most importantly, be open and honest with those close to you about what you’re going through. It might be hard to explain, but discuss what’s going on with your partner, close friends and family. You may also wish to seek out support groups or counseling.

Should I take medication?

That’s always a difficult question, since any antidepressants taking while breast-feeding will enter the breast milk. Some medications have been shown to have minimal side effects or risk for the infant. Most women with postpartum depression normally get better within two to three weeks without medication. If you suffer longer, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor before taking any medication.

References.

1. Mayo Clinic Staff: Disease and Conditions – Postpartum depression. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20029130. Accessed on December 28, 2014.

Photo Credit: Artemis Arthur via Compfight cc

ExpectingExpats.com

Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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