Feelings of despair and worthlessness often accompany postpartum depression. PPD describes a range of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that many mothers experience after childbirth. Postpartum depression symptoms can range from mild to severe and are similar to other types of depression.When a woman suffers from PPD, her family is also affected. Her partner may miss her attention (including sex). The older children in the family may have a hard time coping. Everyone in the family unit may suffer from feelings of unimportance, including the mother.
A woman’s body and emotional state change drastically following delivery of a baby. Nearly all women experience some of the symptoms of PPD after childbirth, such as loss of sexual interest and unexplainable crying spells. A woman who has recently delivered can expect weight fluctuations and appetite changes, especially if she is breastfeeding. Sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion are very common in early motherhood.
To help make a diagnosis of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety disorder, a doctor may ask specific questions. For example, is the mother able to sleep when the infant sleeps? Does food appeal to her and taste good?
A diagnosis of PPD generally requires at least five of the postpartum depression symptoms to be present over a two-week period, with one of the symptoms being a depressed mood or deteriorating interest or pleasure in all activities. Some of the symptoms are:
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- poor personal hygiene
- changes in appetite
- changes in sleep patterns
- feelings of anger
- fear of rejection by partner
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt, especially focusing on failure at motherhood
- excessive anxiety, frequently focusing on the child’s health
- fanaticizing about running away from all responsibilities
- fear of being alone with or harming the baby or oneself.
Postpartum anxiety is PPD combined with panic or anxiety disorder. In addition to postpartum depression symptoms, women suffering from postpartum anxiety disorder may experience recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, difficulty performing routine tasks, and generalized anxiety or panic attacks.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Most mothers know about the numerous benefits of breastfeeding for the baby. Among other things, breast milk provides exactly proportioned nutrients for the growing baby, including protective antibodies and hormones for optimal growth and development.
Breastfeeding can be a frustrating experience for both mother and baby, particularly if the newborn does not “latch on” immediately. Interestingly, while this frustration may cause feelings of worthlessness or anxiety, research indicates that one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it may actually help relieve postpartum depression symptoms for some new mothers.
If you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can provide you with assistance and support. Contact your hospital, birthing center or pediatrician for a referral.