“She nuh fi have pickney!”
“Women always use postpartum stress to play the victim when dem cyan tek care of dem pickney”
Comments like these are shouted far and wide when news breaks of a mother neglecting her child. From babies left in parked cars to mothers causing them intentional physical harm; these actions are considered despicable or weak, making them ‘unworthy’ of raising children. Mental illness should not be used as an excuse for times of neglect, but mothers should always be given the opportunity to speak their truth and be evaluated by professionals before being berated by onlookers.
Directly after birth there is an immediate fall in hormones like cortisol, estrogen and progesterone in all mothers. Those who experience mood disturbances may be more sensitive to this drop and may note symptoms as soon as a few hours to 2 weeks postpartum. Statistics show that 8 out of 10 new moms experience “postpartum blues” which includes mood swings, irritability and intermittent crying up to 6 weeks after giving birth. These disturbances generally resolve spontaneously without intervention. However, 10–15% of mothers suffer from persistent and debilitating mood changes which usually require treatment.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is defined similarly to major depressive disorder in which mood changes are noted consistently for at least 2 weeks. The distinguishing feature is the time of diagnosis which is up to 3 months postpartum. Symptoms include:
– Depressed mood
– Anhedonia (loss of interest in most daily activities)
– Anxiety (anxious and obsessive thoughts about infant’s well-being; positive or negative)
– Change in appetite
– Insomnia or Hypersomnia (sleeping much more or less than usual)
– Actions/movements much faster or slower than usual
– Feelings of worthlessness
– Difficulty concentrating
– Suicidal thoughts
The risk of developing PPD is higher for women who have a history of depression, limited financial and emotional support and those who are in the adolescent stage of life. All at-risk mothers showing signs of depression prior to giving birth should be evaluated by their general practitioner or obstetrician to allow for adequate history, examination and laboratory tests to rule out any other possible condition. The first postnatal visit, usually 6 weeks after birth, is the best time to screen the postnatal mother and advise a treatment plan if necessary.
Once a diagnosis is concluded, treatment will be based on the severity of the mother’s case. This ranges from cognitive behavioral therapy to use of anti-depressants or both. There isn’t enough evidence to definitively prescribe natural remedies to mothers with PPD, however, small-scale studies have shown positive effects in reducing symptoms for mothers during and after pregnancy.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
These are a vital part of a mother’s diet during pregnancy because it contains compounds important in the development of a baby’s nervous system. They have also been found to improve depressive symptoms when taken consistently at a dose of 1–3 mg/day for >2 months. The fatty acids are found naturally in fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon, and flax seeds and walnuts.
Use of essential oils such as lavender and rose oil have been noted to improve depression scores of mothers when used from the third trimester into the postpartum period. Methods include inhaling the diluted oils three times a day or only at bed time for at least a month.
The principle of massage in depression is its ability to modulate cortisol, serotonin and dopamine levels in the body which all play a role in mood. Massage from a professional is ideal but partner-mother and mother-infant massage has been noted to elevate mood as well as increase bond.
*It must be noted that these interventions should be used as an adjunct to the advice and treatment given from certified healthcare practitioners.*
Postpartum depression has negative effects on the entire family, but the infant’s cognitive, emotional and physical development are the most affected as he/she depends solely on the mother. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, but let us as a village ensure the mothers have a smooth and healthy transition too.