In the United States, postpartum depression affects 10 to 20 percent of women. That’s a significant amount and, unfortunately, many cases go undiagnosed and untreated. Nurses and childbirth educators play an important role in helping to educate couples about this condition so symptoms can be identified early and the proper help obtained.
What is postpartum depression?
Mild feelings of sadness, otherwise known as the “baby blues,” are normal, and most women experience them after giving birth. But the baby blues go away within a few weeks, whereas the feelings of hopelessness and sadness associated with postpartum depression (PPD) linger. PPD often occurs as a result of the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, and fatigue, and they can begin at any time within the first three months after giving birth.
While any woman can experience PPD, the common risk factors associated with it include:
- Personal or family history of depression (including a history of postpartum depression)
- Severe PMS
- Depression during pregnancy
- Difficult pregnancy or delivery
- Lack of a support system
- Caring for a chronically ill baby
Early warning signs
The negative feelings indicative of postpartum depression are typically much more intense than those experienced with the baby blues. Early warning signs include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Inability or lack of desire to take care of oneself and/or baby
- Feelings of failure and guilt
- Extreme fatigue
- Feelings of panic and/or irrational fears
- Obsessive-compulsive thoughts or behavior
- Uncontrollable weeping
- Loss of appetite
How you can provide help
Nurses and childbirth educators have a wonderful opportunity to provide the education necessary to help women and their partners recognize the early signs and symptoms of PPD, as well as teach women the importance of meeting their own needs. A critical part of this includes encouraging women to have a solid support system in place, as it’s known that social isolation and the desire for social support during the postpartum period are related to the development of PPD.
While PPD may not be completely preventable, education and knowledge can help women recognize and, therefore, reduce key risk factors, lessening the overall severity of the condition. And having partners involved in the education process is extremely important, as they may be the ones to recognize the signs and symptoms and convince new moms to seek help—something these women may not be able or willing to do on their own.