Preventing Postpartum Depression: The Need for Awareness
Soon after giving birth to her first baby boy, Fatima (which is not her real name), suddenly becomes downcast. She is wracked with guilt because she can’t adore or show affection to her son. She frequently feels exhausted and emotionally empty. She knows that something is wrong with her but hesitates to talk about it.
Her husband also can’t understand the reason behind her sadness and depressed mood. She should be happy that she has given birth to a baby boy but she is not. When her baby cries, she sometimes wants to go very far away or hide. While in front of her baby, she appears to be at a loss for what to do.
Then, with her stiff face, she begins to talk softly to her baby. Her baby giggles, briefly makes eye contact and then turns away. Fatima eventually stops, unsure again how to act. Someone very close to her refers her to a renowned psychiatrist who her and makes the final diagnosis that she is suffering from a condition known as “Postpartum Depression”.
Although the majority of women experience periods of crying, tiredness and irritability but these so called baby blues disappear within a few hours or days of delivery. But not every mother is fortunate. The majority of mothers like Fatima, fail to overcome these so called baby blues and, thus, sink into the ocean of deep sadness. Mothers with symptoms of postpartum depression are preoccupied by the feeling that they might harm their babies.
Although, not true but that fact can heighten their distress. A new research shows that a bout of previous depression is a huge risk factor for the postpartum variety. The postpartum depression can weaken the bond between mother and her child and thereby make a child more insecure and passive.
Motherhood is a highly demanding role. Many women feel exhausted from a baby’s broken sleep and become overwhelmed by new child care duties. Some may miss the life they led before having a baby and also wish for their previous body figure to come back. Also, an unhappy marriage life, job problems and many other demanding roles increase this risk.
The consequences of depression inevitably reach beyond the mother. In this huge cloud of sadness, a mother may find it hard to relate emotionally to her baby. Overwhelming grief prevents her from properly responding to her child’s emotions and feelings. Getting no response from mom, the child quits trying to relate to her. Also, the research has shown that the infants in their early months mirror their mother’s depressive behavior which makes them vulnerable to developing negative emotions and fewer social skills.
In addition to treating a mother’s depression with the help of antidepressants and cognitive-behavior therapy, psychologists and psychiatrists also help the mother develop a better relationship and communication strategies with her baby by using video intervention therapy. They change the unfavorable behavioral patterns that develop between mother and child during the depression. The technique helps mothers to correctly observe their infants’ behavior by recording and analyzing it—and to feel better about their own actions as mothers.
Postpartum depression and anxiety is a major health concern because of its serious negative effects on the development of the child. In Pakistan, like many other psychiatric illnesses and ailments, it is not given much importance. As a result of this, development of child and infant-mother relationship is greatly affected. The majority of women after giving birth go through this phase and they should be given proper care and support.
In that case, family members particularly spouses and in-laws play a vital role. Healthcare departments also need to raise awareness about such type of sensitive issues. A quasi-experimental study investigating the impact of postpartum anxiety and depression on child growth and development was conducted in two peri-urban and multiethnic communities of Karachi some years ago. The experiment found the overall prevalence of postpartum anxiety and depression to be 28.8 percent.
Domestic violence, difficulty with breast feeding at birth and unplanned current pregnancy were found to be significantly associated with postpartum depression. Domestic violence and not having the right to plan pregnancy are related to the patriarchal culture and lack of empowerment of women.
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