Postpartum Grief: Postpartum Depression (Part Three of Six)

Posted on
May 30, 2017 by

In this third article of our six-part series on Postpartum Grief, our focus is on “Postpartum Depression.”

While many new mothers are afflicted by some degree of the “Baby Blues”, a smaller percentage will experience more severe and long-lasting symptoms following the birth of their child. This condition is called Postpartum Depression (PPD).

The Signs and Symptoms of PPD

According to The Baby Center, Postpartum Depression is characterized by five or more of the following symptoms for at least a two-week period:

  • Extreme sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Crying all the time
  • Loss of interest or lack of enjoyment in usual activities and hobbies
  • Trouble falling asleep at night, or trouble staying awake during the day
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much, or unintentional weight loss or weight gain
  • Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or overpowering guilt
  • Restlessness or sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling that life isn’t worth living

Other possible signs may include:

  • Being irritable or angry
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Worrying excessively about your baby
  • Having thoughts of harming your baby
  • Being uninterested in your baby, or unable to care for him/her
  • Feeling so exhausted that you’re unable to get out of bed for hours

These symptoms generally appear within one or two weeks following the birth of the child; however, they may appear during pregnancy or even several months after the child is born.

Although the exact cause of PDD is unknown, there are several factors that are considered to play a role in the development in this condition including, a stressful or difficult pregnancy, a difficult delivery, health issues impacting the new baby, baby colic, a lack of social support, and a previous history of depression.

PPD is not an indication of poor parenting or a sign of weakness.  Having a baby is a significant life transition that brings forth several challenges for new mothers, who have not had the experience of taking care of a newborn baby before.

PPD in Men

Men can also suffer from PPD. Unfortunately, less attention is often given to fathers following the birth of their child, even though the transition of having a new baby may be just as overwhelming for them. As such, many fathers suffer silently with PPD, without a formal diagnosis or treatment.

Postpartum.org identifies the following symptoms as an indication that a father may be suffering from PPD:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Focusing more on work or other distractions
  • Consistently low energy and fatigue
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Changes in sleep, weight, and appetite
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Feeling easily stressed or frustrated
  • Violent or aggressive behavior
  • Impulsive and risky behavior
  • Anger and irritability

Several factors have been found to contribute to the development of PPD in men including, lack of sleep, financial stress, marital issues, difficulties with parents or in-laws, feeling excluded from the relationship between the mother and baby, and a history of depression.

PPD is far less common than the “Baby Blues” in both women and men, but the consequences can be much more severe. Without a proper diagnosis and treatment, the symptoms may lead to more extensive medical, emotional, and psychological problems. According to The Mayo Clinic, “prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms – and enjoy your baby.”

The Impact of Having a Baby

Being a psychologist, I was aware that having a baby would be a significant life transition. I knew intellectually that it would bring forth many new challenges for myself, my husband, and my marriage. However, no amount of knowledge or planning truly prepared us for the emotional, physical, psychological, and relational changes that occurred within the first few months after giving birth to our son. Often, it is not until after the child is born when parents truly appreciate how overwhelming this transition can be.

Unfortunately, popular media fails to provide an accurate perspective of what it means to have a new baby. There is a tremendous amount of focus on the joy, happiness, and fulfillment that a baby brings, which is undoubtedly true, but very little attention is focused on the stress and challenges that may be involved.

The reality is, that every major change we experience in life has the potential to be accompanied by grief.  The addition of a new child is an enormous transition that affects all areas of one’s life and certainly constitutes as a grieving experience.

Addressing the Impact

We encourage new parents to take action to manage their symptoms following the birth of their child. For some, this may mean seeking the professional support of a licensed therapist and medical doctor.

Ideally, the time to take action is well in advance; even prior to the birth of your child. Taking proactive steps can help to minimize symptoms of PPD, strengthen relationships, and enhance your experience of parenting your new baby.

One way in which to be proactive, is to take the action steps of the Grief Recovery Method Program. Many of the contributing factors that lead to the development of PPD are already present prior to the transition into parenthood. The probability of developing PPD can be greatly reduced or even eliminated if these factors are addressed prior to the birth of your child.

If you have become aware of the symptoms of PPD within yourself or your significant other, we encourage you take action now. Seek the support of a professional to obtain or rule-out a diagnosis of PPD and take the actions laid out in “The Grief Recovery Handbook”. Many of the symptoms of PPD are similar to those experienced by anyone dealing with grief.

Additionally, if you would like to seek the support of a Grief Recovery Specialist in your area, you will find a listing of specialists at the end of this article. Many of them are licensed therapists who can support you in addressing and managing your symptoms. The longer you wait to seek support, the more overwhelming your symptoms may become.

Postpartum grief and postpartum depression are very real issues that need to be taken seriously. Our hope in writing this article, is that you have a greater understanding of what PPD is and feel better equipped to address early signs within yourself. We encourage you seek support if you are unsure whether or not you are suffering from PPD. With correct information and the right support, your transition into parenthood can be a truly wonderful experience.

This article was written by Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute, and Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.