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The overlooked aspects of postpartum depression

August 26, 2020 • read

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The overlooked aspects of postpartum depression

Being a new parent means taking a ride on an emotional rollercoaster — the joy of a new baby, the lack of sleep, the zero time to yourself. Awareness of postpartum depression and the difficulties new moms face has grown over the last few years. But there are aspects of the condition that still aren’t widely known. We’re taking a look to see who’s at risk for postpartum depression, and some new research on one of its often overlooked indicators. 

What is postpartum depression?

Most postpartum women experience something called the baby blues, which is a period of low mood following the birth of their child. But the baby blues tend to resolve within a couple of days, or at maximum two weeks. Postpartum depression (PPD) is any depression that a parent (usually the mother) experiences in the first year after her child is born. Symptoms of postpartum depression manifest after pregnancy, though for some they begin before the birth of the child — this is known as perinatal depression. 

A new baby often changes both a parent’s sense of self and the relationship dynamics of a couple. Because of this, PPD doesn’t just affect biological mothers after birth — symptoms of postpartum depression are well documented in adoptive parents too (usually called post-adoption depression). PPD can also affect mothers who have had a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

Symptoms of postpartum depression

In Canada, obstetricians, midwives and even some pediatricians screen postpartum women for symptoms of PPD. But new research suggests that they’re not asking about anger — a major indicator of PPD that is often overlooked. Most people are familiar with the other symptoms of PPD which include:

  • Feeling inadequate as a parent
  • Inability to bond with your baby
  • Exhaustion / feeling tired all the time
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Extreme irritability
  • Feelings of anger / rage
  • Episodes of crying / feelings of sadness
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harming your child

Risk factors for postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is incredibly common and can happen to anyone — it’s not a sign of weakness and it doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent. In fact, 23% of Canadian women report feelings of depression or anxiety during the postpartum period — that’s almost one in four new moms. Lack of sleep is a major trigger for the disorder, and women who rate their sleep quality as poor after their child is born are more than three times as likely to develop PPD than other new parents. In addition to poor sleep, other factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing postpartum depression include:

  • A personal or family history of depression
  • Previous physical or sexual abuse
  • Becoming a young mother — especially if you’re under 25
  • Having fewer social supports
  • Financial difficulties that make it hard to meet your needs
  • Having a child with medical issues or colic

Postpartum depression in men

While it’s more common in new mothers, new fathers can also suffer from PPD and men whose partners have PPD are at increased risk for the condition themselves. Many couples where one partner struggles with postpartum depression also report marriage problems. Some research even suggests that as many as one in three couples affected by PPD experience marital dysfunction in some way.

Signs of postpartum depression in men

  • Retreating into work
  • Anger / increased irritability and / or conflict with others
  • Crying / feelings of extreme sadness
  • Increased drinking or drug use
  • Risk taking behaviour (including affairs)
  • Aches and pains
  • Loss of sleep or exhaustion
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Self-isolating

How to cope with postpartum depression

Hoping PPD will lift on its own is risky. Unchecked depression can get worse and become chronic so seeking treatment is crucial. Treatment for postpartum depression can take many forms — from having your co-parent share more responsibilities (like baby’s night wakings) to taking medication. Speaking to a friend or family member and seeking out other new parents to share your experience with is often helpful as well. And many women report that seeing a therapist for postpartum depression symptoms provides relief. Depression can be brought on by both biological and social factors, so it helps to have a multifaceted treatment approach. 

The first year after a child is born brings many changes — physically, hormonally, emotionally and socially. Lack of sleep, little time for self-care, and the social isolation that many new parents feel can all contribute to depression. Because having a child is such a profoundly life changing event, parents can sometimes dismiss feelings of depression as being related to their new life and all that comes with it. But postpartum depression is real and can happen to anyone. If you’re concerned that you or your partner has postpartum depression, speak to a psychotherapist, your doctor, your friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

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