The Confusing Nature of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression (PPD) affects about 15% of new mothers, and negatively impacts both mother and child. It has been researched and written about in journals and magazines, yet few new moms really consider it as something they might be dealing with; much less seek treatment for it. The reason could lie in the confusing nature of postpartum depression.

Parenting an infant requires so many sacrifices, some of which can be both emotionally and physically taxing. New moms go through tremendous hormonal changes in the first few weeks after delivery, not to mention the ongoing demands of meeting the physical needs of their baby. Nighttime parenting, a screaming baby, nursing on demand, financial strains, ongoing work responsibilities for spouses and more can take a toll on both Mom and Dad.

Looking back on when I had my first baby, the number-one most difficult aspect of parenting—one that no one could have adequately prepared me for—was sleep deprivation. Getting out of bed every couple of hours (usually shortly after I collapsed into the deepest sleep) to nurse my baby, walking around with her in the dark when she didn’t want to lay still in my arms, changing diapers in the dimly lit room, taking forever to burp her and worrying if she is getting enough milk… AND I was supposed to be loving all of this—after all, wasn’t I holding my most precious gift ever in my arms?

A mixed bag emotionally. I was exhausted and at times felt irritation and anger when she woke up crying or didn’t sleep more than an hour (yes, one hour!) in a row. On top of all this, I was being held hostage by my ever-changing hormones. I welcomed night-sweats, hot flashes, chills (basically a crash course on the hormonal changes in menopause, yeah!) and lying in bed wide, awake in those rare moments my child was actually sleep.

Many new mothers wrestle with similar feelings, and women are at an increased risk of developing mood disorders during the postpartum period. Symptoms of Postpartum Depression include loss of appetite, anhedonia (loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy), intense irritability and anger, lack of joy in life, feelings of shame or guilt, loss of interest in sex and severe mood swings. Sounds fantastic, right?!

The Archives of Womens’ Health reported that poor postpartum sleep may be a risk factor for the development of depression. Researchers completed a study where they placed wrist actigraphs on new mothers and asked them to fill out sleep-logs and mood surveys each day. They have found there was no relationship between nocturnal sleep duration and Postpartum Depression—but sleep fragmentation, sleep efficiency and wake time after sleep onset were all predicative of PPD. In other words, it is not the number of hours of total sleep but the compromised quality of sleep that made these women vulnerable to depression.

Another study found that women who are willing to seek professional help for depressive symptoms and those who have adequate social support are more likely recover from PPD. Professional help can come in many shapes and forms, but counseling is usually a form of treatment that new mothers feel more comfortable utilizing than medications, especially when they have breastfeeding concerns.

If you are a new mom and feel like something is “off,” or you have any of the symptoms listed above, please take a minute to take The Edinburgh Pospartum Depression Scale (which is the most common PPD screening tool), and give Watershed a call to schedule an appointment.