What is postnatal depression?
It is common for new mothers to experience a few weeks of, what is referred to as, the Baby Blues during the first couple of weeks within the arrival of the newborn. For the most part this is hormonally induced and symptoms often include irritability, anxiety and tearfulness. For the vast majority these symptoms disappear after a few weeks, while for a fewer percentage of mothers, symptoms gain in intensity and can last up to a year, potentially rendering the mother incapable of caring for her newborn.
Who is at risk?
Although postnatal depression can affect everyone some predisposing factors have been identified and include; psychological, biological and relationship dynamics. A history of depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders is perhaps not surprisingly a known risk factor. The stress and fatigue often felt by the mother who is raising a child singlehandedly or whilst in an unstable relationship, can prove too much and similarly contribute to the onset of postnatal depression.
Mothers who suffered an untreated antenatal depression while expecting are almost certain to suffer with postnatal depression. The two conditions both concern the new/unborn baby, and many mothers report of a lack of confidence in being able to care for their child, and feeling anxious about the baby’s health. Similarly, mothers who have suffered postnatal depression after previous pregnancies are at increased risk of a recurrent spell of postnatal depression in later pregnancies.
The importance of treatment
A recent study has demonstrated that the depression rate among off-spring of postnatally depressed mothers, is 40% with the average age of first onset of depression at 14. These findings are rather concerning, and although high risk individuals are unable to eliminate all of the contributing risk factors, such as their medical history, intervening where possible can make a difference. The postnatal depression blog, Postpartum Progress, points to a Massachusetts General Hospital Center study that highlights the importance of addressing some modifiable factors prior to childbirth, such as the level of social and emotional support available. In doing so one might lessen or altogether avoid the symptoms of postnatal depression. It is vital that antenatal depression be addressed during pregnancy to prevent the onset of postnatal depression. And where the Baby Blues persist in weeks and months following childbirth, it is important to remember that postnatal depression can be successfully treated and that early intervention lessens the likelihood of the child developing depression later on in life.
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