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Beyond the baby blues.

You've just had a baby, a time for joy and celebration. You smile down at the little bundle, all gums, tiny fingers and toes; you are thrilled at the prospect of motherhood ... or are you? The image of the happy, glowing mother permeates our society, but statistics paint a different picture. Mild forms of depression and mood swings, known as the baby blues, affect about 80 percent of women who give birth, and approximately one in ten women develop more significant depressive symptoms. Sister Namibia spoke with two clinical psychologists, Heidi Burmeister-Nel and Shelene Gentz, to learn more about this problem known as postpartum depression.

Sister Namibia: What is postpartum depression?

Heidi: It is a type of depression that starts after a pregnancy. Women who suffer from it often have a loss of pleasure and happiness. They may have low energy, feel inadequate, and lose the desire for sex. They may not be able to think clearly or concentrate. They can gain or lose weight and may have problems sleeping. Sometimes they may have thoughts about death or suicide.

Shelene: Postpartum depression could be the result of the physical and psychological stresses of childbirth, as well as the changes that the new mother is faced with because of the new baby.

Sister: What factors make it more likely that some of us will have difficulties after we give birth?

Heidi: Any woman can become depressed after having a child, no matter her social class or status, but several factors can contribute to depression both during and after pregnancy. Emotional, social and physical factors can increase the risk of psychological illnesses during childbearing. For example, women who've been depressed before or who have marital or socio-economic problems, are at risk. First-time motherhood, being unmarried, or a prior loss of a pregnancy or a child are all risk factors.


Shelene: The amount of support received from family and friends plays a big role in whether or not a new mother may become depressed. Studies have shown that women with postpartum depression generally had poorer marital relationships and less support from their partners than women who did not experience it.

Whether the pregnancy was planned or unwanted can also have an effect on the new mother, and economic hardships have been known to play a role, too. Women in these circumstances are more likely to develop postpartum depression because they are more likely to have increased risk factors than other women. But, there are also physical factors like low birth weight and premature births that have also been linked to the problem.

Sister: What treatment is available?

Heidi: Women suffering from postpartum depression should get psychological and psychiatric treatment. There are antidepressant medications, hormonal treatments and psychotherapy. Support from the partner or family is also essential to helping the new mother recover. Rest and sleep are important, but they are very seldom enough to address the problem.

Shelene: An interesting finding is that postpartum depression usually improves by itself within two to six months, although some lingering symptoms are common up to a year later. In cases where symptoms continue, standard treatments for depression are used, the most successful being a combination of anti-depressant medication and therapy.

Sister: In your opinion, can postpartum depression contribute to 'baby dumping'?

Heidi: Very little is known about the phenomena of 'baby dumping'. Families of women who had similar experiences or women who have abandoned their babies often report symptoms such as despair, hopelessness, the inability to think rationally or to foresee a brighter future. These women are paralysed by their circumstances, the fear of raising a child or by the fear of facing people who may abandon them.

Postpartum psychosis can also play a role in the phenomena. Postpartum psychosis is the most severe form of psychiatric disorders women can encounter in the period after having a child. The ability to function in a woman experiencing psychosis is significantly impaired, often because of hallucinations and delusions. These psychoses are relatively rare, occurring in 1 or 2 in 1000 deliveries, but women in the period after giving birth are at a thirteen fold increased risk, compared to women who have not had children.

Shelene: There have been documented cases where a mother might kill or abandon her baby in the midst of a postpartum depressive episode. It seems, however, that a lot of other factors would have to be present before a mother decides to abandon the baby. Factors that may have an influence would be the amount of social support available to the mother. For example have her significant others been supportive? I am also thinking of unplanned and teenage pregnancies, which can cause an enormous amount of stress on the mother. There is also the issue of financial worries and their implications.

Sister: What should be done to address the issue of 'baby dumping'?

Heidi: Women should be evaluated before and after giving birth for being at risk. At risk women should be referred for psychological, psychiatric and social support. Women, as well as their partners and families, should be educated about symptoms and signs and must be encouraged to seek help as soon as possible.

Shelene: Research would be a fantastic start in order to determine the exact prevalence of 'baby dumping'. It is important that there are resources available for distressed and hopeless pregnant mothers.

Sister: Thank you!

RELATED ARTICLE: Recognising and dealing with postpartum depression

from Our Bodies, Ourselves

* Trust your intuition about how you are feeling

* One Woman's blues may be another woman's depression.

* Err on the side of caution of you are concerned about how you are feeling.

* If someone tries to brush you aside, find someone who will take you serously.

* Be persistent in seeking professional care.

* You may feel ashamed, but remember these are medical problems that are common, treatable, and not your fault.

* You deserve to feel the best you can.
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Title Annotation:BODY AND SOUL
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:May 1, 2007
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