There are all sorts of fuss about a woman who is expecting a baby. People drop in wishes and cards and gifts. Medically, people would recommend their best gynaecologists, talk out of experience, suggest stuff like talking to the baby etc. Some might even take the mother maternity-dress shopping.
But what remains as the major issue of concern is the psychological trouble that nobody talks about. People dismiss them as 'natural' and 'happens with everyone'. Yet it is important to pay attention to one's emotions and behavior both during the pre-natal and the post-natal period.
Many a times, pre-natal psychological problems like stress, problem drinking etc. are held in control since the mother is under constant medical supervision and regular check-ups, which means that any slight irregularity can be reported and referred to a psychologist.
But the post-natal problems are the ones that are ignored the most since many mothers do not continue with their regular visits to the clinic and also, the baby’s demands leave them with no time to ponder over their own. This very ignorance can cause a condition known as postpartum depression. What’s surprising is that it is not only found in mothers but in fathers of newborns too.
Postpartum depression has often been explained with the help of the layman term ‘baby blues’ – like anxiety, stress, sadness etc. Yet postpartum depression (henceforth, PPD) is a more severe mood disorder. And you know you have it if your baby blues aren’t going away on their own, within days of conceiving the infant. If it is prolonging, and if you feel it is more than just a little mood swing, you may have PPD.
PPD usually affects the patients’ very ability to take care of what they are being the most anxious about – the baby. They can’t take proper care of them, become unaffected of the baby crying or responding in any manner since they go into severe depression, feel hopeless as well as incompetent to parent a child. But these are usually the mothers’ symptoms.
Fathers specifically have been found to get quarrelsome, more aggressive than usual and maybe violent. Some may even indulge in excessive gambling and drinking. In the worst cases, it becomes difficult for them to even get through the day. Their jobs come under jeopardy. Some parents might even contemplate hurting themselves or the baby. And that is exactly why you need to seek professional help – because it is not just any mood disorder, it can be fatal for your baby or your family or yourself if severe, and if left untreated.
PPD, experts say, in most cases results because of sleep deprivation. The baby subjects you to odd timings of waking up and sleeping and if you’re a working parent by any chance, you have got a lot to handle. Also, the constant crying and the unpleasant smell can make you go completely crazy. Another important factor is hormonal changes. Contrary to the myth that only the mother goes through the obvious bodily changes since she carries the baby, even the father goes through a lot of physical changes.
Testosterone levels in men have been found to go low while their wives are pregnant or when the baby is just born and there is a considerable hike in estrogen levels in them at the same time. This can bring about certain reactions that you are unprepared for, for instance, crying over the death of your neighbor’s dog or during movies. This can further trigger anxiety and stress, leading to paternal postpartum depression.
Apart from the biological reasons, postpartum depression can occur because you are not ready for this. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it only happens to first-time mothers. PPD can affect anyone, even mothers with more than 5 previous children.
Not being ready implies not having a stable financial condition, too much stress due to too many kids in the family, a recent traumatic incident like a death, especially the death of a previous kid, work-related problems, contentions over child-birth between the spouses, bodily weakness or pre-natal depression etc. Some patients who report postnatal depression can also be patients of classic depression anyway, that is even before they are pregnant.
Nevertheless, PPD can be cured. What’s more, you can put in that extra effort yourself and come out of it easily.
The task that comes first in your check list is asking for help with the baby. Especially in India, motherhood is seen as the sole responsibility of the mother and the relatives refrain from extending actual help; they rather just advice about the dos and the don’ts.
So, do not hesitate to express your feelings and problems openly and get all the help you can. While the extra help, whether a nanny or the relative takes care of the baby, make sure you get a sound sleep. It is better than any anti-depressant or any other medication, so to speak.
Talk to your partner. Tell them about your emotions. In most of the cases, one of the parents goes through PPD if the other parent is going through it too. So, together you can definitely make amends. Try talking to other mothers too. You can also join a group, if available. Talking to friends and family also helps in many cases.
Prioritize. Give less importance to frivolous tasks and do the important ones while your baby sleeps or plays around – basically activities where you can divert a little attention elsewhere.
And lastly, if it still gets completely out of control, see a psychologist and seek therapy. Do it for your baby. Just keep in mind that it is just a phase and there is still a lot more enriching and joyous to look forward to when that little kid in your arms grows up. This article is written by Anu Goel (counselling psychologist) & Anupriya Jain