With an impending royal birth in the works, women’s health issues related to pregnancy and childbirth are once again making the global news. The Duchess of Cambridge has already suffered through the physical ailments associated with Hyperemesis Gravidarum and now, just like everyone else, she faces a one in four possibility that her delivery could lead to a mental health ailment associated with childbirth known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression, or depressive disorder with peripartum onset, affects women around the world and across all demographics.
Regardless of what your grandmother may have told you, postpartum depression is not just a case of emotional overstimulation. Yes, having a child is an emotional experience. No one would dispute that. Women are expected to be emotional as they welcome a new member to their family. They are also emotional due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy and childbirth. These hormones eventually balance out within the first couple of weeks after childbirth but sometimes, that fails to happen. Sometimes hormonal imbalances combine with sleep deprivation, anxiety about parenthood and caring for an infant, post partum identity crisis, bereavement associated with no longer being pregnant, feelings of loss of control over life, and a potential lack of support from family members. When this combination occurs, symptoms such as sadness, low energy, crying episodes, irritability, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and changes in eating habits can present. If these particular symptoms last for more than two weeks, they can be indicative of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that requires immediate intervention as it may interfere with normal maternal–child bonding and child development regardless of the gender of the baby. Children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression have higher rates of emotional problems, behavior problems, psychiatric diagnoses (oppositional defiance disorder and conduct disorder), and hyperactivity.
While postpartum depression is a serious condition, there are a variety of treatment options available. A 2013 Cochrane review found evidence that psychosocial or psychological intervention after childbirth helped reduce the risk of postnatal depression for both preterm and full term births. These types of intervention can be used as non-pharmacologic therapy, which means that they can be used with both nursing and non-nursing mothers. Effective treatments include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR).
While postpartum depression is not uncommon, the Duchess of Cambridge has little to worry about as she is and will be treated by some of the best physicians both during and after childbirth, and watched for any and all signs of distress. Not all women, however, are as fortunate. For these women, knowing the signs and symptoms can mean the difference between suffering through months of depression or getting the treatment they desperately need.