Postpartum Depression: What you Need to Know as a Woman or Man
Our culture in Nigeria and Africa does not traditionally permit people to talk about the difficulties women experience during and after pregnancy. Because of this, most of us did not know that after a woman gives birth, she could fall into depression due to the extreme physical and hormonal changes her body goes through.
In reality, most new moms experience “baby blues” – crying, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and so on – and this may last up to 2 weeks after birth. In addition, around the world, tens of millions of women experience a more severe and longer-lasting form of depression called “postpartum depression”. For men who have partners that suffer postpartum depression, half of them will also develop depression.
In rarer cases, some new moms may also suffer from “postpartum psychosis”.
Because of the silence that has clouded issues about giving birth, amidst a culture that teaches that you can get only fulfillment and joy from the process, many women suffer in silence. They do not understand their experience, they cannot speak about it, and they get even more afraid.
Many people do not believe postpartum depression is real and so there isn’t a lot of support out there from male partners or family members for women who go through it.
To help our readers understand these issues, our Favour Egwu spoke with a mother about her experience with PPD and a medical practitioner with experience dealing with mothers who suffer from PPD.
Please read and let us know your thoughts and experiences.
Interview with a mother who experienced PPD:
Did you know anything about postpartum depression before you gave birth?
Yes, I had read some things about it but didn’t pay much attention to it. I didn’t think it was a serious issue.
How did you realize you had postpartum depression?
I am not one who freaks out and cries at the slightest thing. But, this period, I was crying at anything and everything. I was very sad, I wasn’t happy. Then, I knew I was falling into depression. Thank God, I had prior knowledge of postpartum depression so I knew it was lurking around.
How were you able to handle it when you discovered you might be depressed?
I knew I needed a strong support system and a safe place because everything became overwhelming for me. I spoke with my husband and we decided I go to my parent’s place. Home has always been a safe and secure place for me. Plus, I knew my mum has a lot of experience with newborns.
Knowing that my baby was in safe hands gave me some relief. I wasn’t panicky anymore. My dad was also super amazing encouraging me with words and prayers.
The support I got from family was healing. I could rest more, I was relaxed, I wasn’t scared anymore. It was a long process but I got better and I became myself.
I realized that I was falling into depression pretty early so it was easy to tackle it before it became serious.
During this period did you seek medical help?
No, I didn’t because I hadn’t fallen into ‘full’ depression. But there are medications for extreme cases of postpartum depression. For ‘minor’ cases, counseling helps. Find a strong support system surround yourself with people that love you.
How long did it last?
Many women suffer from postpartum depression for a really long time, years, even. It becomes part of them though they have no idea that they have PPD.
Mine lasted for a couple of months. But, I was one of the lucky ones. I knew very early that I needed help, so I sought and got help.
What advice would you give to mothers experiencing postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression comes in different forms. I advise women and mothers to read about them. My experience may not be the same as another’s. So, I advise new moms to find a support system. They should surround themselves with women they trust and feel safe with.
It could be their mother, mother-in-law, sisters, aunties, friends, and so on. They shouldn’t take stress or anxiety as a normal feeling or treat their prolonged unhappiness as casual. And, they should seek help from mental health experts.
Interview with Medical Practitioner with Experience Treating Mothers with PPD.
In your experience, do the mothers you treat know about PPD before pregnancy?
No. Many of them don’t know what postpartum depression is or how it can affect them.
Are they educated about it during their pregnancy?
Yes. During antenatal classes, the women get screened in a counseling session, as a lot of factors can increase the risk of PPD. These factors include a history of depression before becoming pregnant, or during pregnancy. Depression during pregnancy could occur from a variety of causes, including trauma from rape/sexual abuse.
Another factor that increases the risk of PPD is children – the more children you have, the more likely you are to get depressed in a subsequent pregnancy.
Your age at the time of pregnancy may also contribute. The younger you are, the higher the risk. The risks are equally higher if the mother has limited social support, lives alone or is lonely, and if she is in a marriage with conflict.
When the answer to one or more of the above is “Yes”, the women/partners or close relative (if available) are educated on the possibility of PPD. So that when it happens, they can take the right steps for treatment.
Have you met male partners who do not believe in PPD?
Yes, I have. One of the men I have met and his family believed our patient to be an “ogbanje” (having an evil spirit). They were not comfortable with coming to the hospital for her treatment. Rather, some of them suggested taking her to the church while others suggested she be sent home to her people.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
Some of the symptoms include insomnia (difficulty sleeping); change in appetite; excessive fatigue; decreased libido, where some detest their husband’s body and touch; and frequent mood changes. These are also accompanied by other symptoms of major depression, which are not normal after childbirth, and may include loss of pleasure; feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness; thoughts of death or suicide, or thoughts of hurting someone. Some women hurt their babies during this period.
In some (mild) cases, they refuse to breastfeed or carry their babies to comfort them when they cry. Some have fed the babies with their [babies’] faeces. In the worst cases, they abandon them to fate or kill them.
How often do women come for help when they go through PPD and are there treatments readily available for women them?
Often, women don’t come on their own. They’re brought by partners or relatives.
There are antidepressant drugs for their treatments, while some attend counseling sessions. There are also support groups that we encourage them to participate in for support and education.
For severe cases, intravenous infusion is done. It is a medication given via the veins.
How effective is the counseling system?
It is very effective, we have invited some of them who benefited from it to share their experiences with new ones. From the testimonies, we have confirmed its effectiveness.
What does the intravenous infusion do?
This is for severe cases like postpartum psychosis. While they’re on psychotherapy and participating in the support group, doctors prescribe some treatments that are given to hasten treatment process.
Finally, how can women know if they have PPD?
It could come like normal mood swings, but the difference is that unlike mood swings, PPD is a major form of depression that has its onset within four weeks of delivery.
The diagnosis is based not only on the length of time between delivery and onset but also of the severity of the depression.