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Recognizing Postpartum Depression

Dealing with Postpartum Depression

Giving birth can cause a number of powerful emotions, especially as your hormones change. While you’re experiencing overwhelming joy, you may also feel anxiety or fear. These rapid changes can trigger postpartum depression for many women.

Baby Blues

Many new moms experience something called the baby blues after giving birth. This usually starts in the first few days after delivery and can last up to 2 weeks. Signs of these blues include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Issues with appetite

But some new moms experience a more severe period of depression called postpartum depression.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

1 in 7 women will struggle with postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a serious depression disorder that affects women after childbirth or miscarriage. This depression can then make it difficult to recover from childbirth and care for and bond with a newborn.

This is a complication from giving birth, not a character flaw or weakness. While there are many risk factors for developing it, there are some causes that might be to blame.

Doctors believe that one of the causes of postpartum depression is the radical drop in your estrogen and progesterone levels that can trigger emotional responses.

Other causes include sleep deprivation and the load of emotional situations layered on top of one another. These issues might include:

  • Dealing with complications from childbirth
  • Feeling less attractive
  • Struggling with your sense of identity
  • Concerns about being a new parent

Symptoms typically begin a few weeks after childbirth, although they can also appear later. For many, these feelings are most intense at the beginning and ease over time. Postpartum depression can last up to 6 months after giving birth.

Risk Factors

Any new mom can experience postpartum depression, but your risk might be higher if you have:

  • Trouble breastfeeding
  • Multiple births, like twins
  • A newborn with health problems or special needs
  • A personal or family history of depression or other mood disorders
  • Experienced depression after previous pregnancies
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Had stress over the last year, like pregnancy complications, illness, or major negative life changes
  • Issues in your relationship with your significant other, support system, or finances
  • Doubts about the pregnancy because it was unplanned or unwanted

Knowing these risk factors can help you recognize your risk before giving birth. Then you can plan ahead with your doctor.

Prevention When You Know You’re at Risk

If you have a history of depression or postpartum depression, tell your doctor about it once you find out you’re pregnant.

During pregnancy, your doctor can keep an eye on any signs of depression. They may also have you take depression screenings before and after delivery. They might recommend support groups or counseling, or even antidepressants in some cases.

After your baby’s born, they might also recommend a postpartum checkup to check for depression. The earlier they find it, the earlier they can start treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs that you might be struggling with postpartum depression include:

  • Trouble bonding or caring for your newborn
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Feelings of sadness, sometimes overwhelming, and crying excessively
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Anger and irritability
  • Severe or sudden mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness, restlessness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, or worry that you’re not good enough
  • Cutting yourself off from loved ones
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue, loss of energy, and trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in things you once loved
  • Trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Dwelling on thoughts of death or suicide

Complications

If left untreated, postpartum depression can cause long-term issues in your family. It can last for months and sometimes become a chronic depression issue.

It can also interfere with your ability to bond with your baby, which can impact them in the future. Children of mothers who suffered from untreated postpartum depression have more emotional and behavioral problems. They’re more likely to:

  • Cry excessively
  • Have development issues, especially delays in language skills
  • Have trouble sleeping

Treatment

Many people feel guilty or embarrassed that they’re depressed after giving birth, which can make it hard to admit they’re struggling. But it’s time to see the doctor if your symptoms:

  • Don’t fade after 2 weeks
  • Get worse
  • Make it hard to care for your baby or complete normal tasks
  • Include thoughts of self-harm

Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms, rule out other issues, and might ask for you to take a screening or questionnaire to learn more.

From there, they’ll help you decide on the best treatment depending on how serious it is and your medical history. Common types of treatment include:

  • Therapy where you talk with a mental health professional in a safe environment
  • Support groups for new mothers
  • Medication, like antidepressants
  • Healthy lifestyle choices, like getting plenty of sleep and water, a healthy diet, and regular exercise

If you have suicidal thoughts or think about harming your baby, it’s important to talk to your loved ones and get help from your doctor as soon as possible.

If you need help immediately, call a suicide hotline, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Postpartum Depression in Fathers

New dads can also have postpartum depression, making them feel sad, fatigued, overwhelmed, or filled with anxiety.

Young fathers with a history of depression, relationship problems, or financial issues are the most at risk. It’s also more likely if the mother is also struggling with depression.

Left untreated, it can have the same negative effects on relationships and child development that a mother’s postpartum depression can.

If you’re a new father dealing with symptoms of depression or anxiety during your partner’s pregnancy or after your child’s birth, talk to your doctor. Similar treatments are available to help you.

Postpartum Psychosis

In extremely rare cases, mothers can also experience postpartum psychosis. This condition is more severe and dangerous. Symptoms usually develop within the first week after delivery and include:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Agitation and obsessive thoughts about your baby
  • Attempts to harm yourself or your baby

Postpartum psychosis is very serious and can lead to life-threatening thoughts and actions. It needs immediate attention and treatment. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience or see signs of it.

Helping a Loved One

People with depression may not see the signs in themselves or may struggle to acknowledge they’re depressed at a moment usually portrayed as nothing but joyous. If you suspect that a loved one is struggling with postpartum depression or is developing postpartum psychosis, talk to them and their support system about getting help immediately.

Waiting and hoping for improvement is dangerous. Talking about postpartum depression as a normal part of pregnancy for many women helps them feel better about their struggles with it.

As this issue is talked about more in the public, more women will recognize the signs and feel comfortable talking about it and dealing with it.

Stop the Tossing and Turning

My Healthy Journey: Finding Time for Sleep

It’s been a busy year for my team at Health Alliance, so I hope you’ve been enjoying Nicole’s Chasing Health series while I’ve been too busy to post!

When life gets busy and stress takes over, the first thing that always goes for me is sleep. I’ve never been very good at getting a lot of it, even though it’s one of my favorite things in the world, especially when stress sets in.

Unfortunately, that’s not doing my health any favors:

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
Image via Mind Body Green

And since stress and being too busy already make some of these things worse, like my mood and healthy eating flying out the window, not getting enough sleep on top of all that is not good.

Not to mention that it’s definitely not helping my work:

What Happens When Your Brain Doesn't Sleep?
Image via Science.Mic

The moral is clearly that sometimes, you have to make taking care of yourself a priority, which is unfortunately easier said than done.

Rally, our online wellness tool, can help by offering missions that help you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, stick to a bedtime, start a bedtime ritual, and sleep better.

As for me, what can I do to get better sleep?

I’m taking notes from this video and this handy list of 27 Easy Ways to Sleep Better Tonight from Greatist.

  • Start a bedtime routine. I used to have one, but that’s all but disappeared the last 6 months. I need to start again, and I’m going to try adding drinking something warm (and decaffeinated) to that schedule.
  • Listen to soothing music. Normally, I leave something playing on Netflix as I fall asleep, but soothing music or a sound machine, without the light, would be a much better idea. Maybe I can make use of Adele’s new album or apps like Rain, Rain, which makes thunderstorm noises.
  • Cut back on electronics. This and making my bed a work-free zone are nearly impossible for me, but I do need to work on cutting back. Setting a curfew when I set down my phone or laptop, like at least a half hour before bed, could really help.
  • Make your bed cozy. I mentioned this in my resolutions for this year, but I’ve just gotten around to digging out my cozy stuff for this winter.

A Cozy Bed

  • Make up for lost sleep. Adding an extra hour when I didn’t get enough sleep the night before could help me with my sleep debt.
  • Don’t toss and turn. I do this a lot, and if I can’t fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, I should try getting up and doing something relaxing (NOT work), like knitting or reading.

One thing I can tell you I won’t be trying off this list? Kicking my pet out of my bed.

While I know this must be a problem for some people, I don’t think it’s a problem for me. And I’m not alone. A new study finds that 41% of people think having their pet in the room helps them sleep better.

I know that I would worry about her if she wasn’t in my room. Plus, cuddling her is about the most relaxing activity in my life. In fact, that’s frequently how I fall asleep now. I mean, how can you resist that?

Sleepy Tootsie

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Wintertime Worries and Falling

Falling and SAD in the Winter

The air is getting crisper and unfortunately, the sun shines less and less. Before we know it, snowflakes and ice will begin to fall. These wintery mixes can compromise both our balance and mental health. Both falling and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can come with the winter weather.

Falling

Each year, more than 300,000 injuries result from falls. Give yourself plenty of time and don’t rush around. Be especially careful getting into and out of your car by holding onto the door or framework for support.

If you must carry things, try to distribute the weight evenly and carry them below waist level, to help keep your center of gravity low. Go down icy stairs sideways.

Take short, flat-footed steps with your feet slightly farther apart than normal with your hands out of your pockets. Keep your eyes on the ground in front of you.

Wear boots or shoes with good traction. Rubber soles are better than plastic or leather. If you wear heels, wear wedges of no more than 2 inches. Once you’re inside, wipe and dry your shoes off to prevent creating slippery conditions inside too.

If you do lose your footing, try to fall so your thighs, hips, then shoulders hit the ground in that order, to keep your arms from taking all your body weight and possibly breaking. Tuck and bend your back and head toward your chest to keep from smacking your head.

SAD

A person suffering from SAD usually experiences depression and unexplained fatigue throughout the winter, while his or her symptoms disappear with the return of spring.

The reasons for developing SAD are still largely unknown, although experts believe it’s somehow triggered by decreased exposure to sunlight.

The symptoms are very similar to depression, but someone with SAD will experience these changes in mood and behavior in a regular, seasonal pattern.

A person with SAD or depression may have a few or all of the symptoms, like loss of energy, changes in mood, trouble concentrating, appetite changes, and weight gain.

Once you’re diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants for just the months you need them. Another option is light therapy. Light therapy uses a special light panel or box that mimics the light from the sun.