What is postpartum depression?

A mother looking sad, holding her young baby.

Mother and Baby  by Orkidia.  © Used by permission

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Welcoming a new baby to the family is one of the happiest milestones in family life. After months of waiting, you finally have this bundle of joy to cuddle and love. However, there are instances when new mothers may feel sad, anxious, or even angry, right after giving birth. This could come as a surprise for some of them so they hide what they are feeling. Some may even conclude that they are bad mothers. For newcomer moms, this can be particularly hard especially when they are far away from their usual supports (family and friends).

Here is a fact. It is normal for new moms to feel fear, anxiety and sadness during the first few days or weeks after giving birth. Known as the “baby blues”, around 75-80% of new mothers experience being emotional (weepy), overwhelmed, irritable, fatigued and have trouble sleeping (The baby blues, Baby center.ca). This is caused by biological factors, such as hormonal shifts in your body, and psychological factors, such as your adjustment to being a parent.

It is when these feelings don’t go away after two-three weeks, or if they get worse and more intense, that it becomes a condition that requires help and attention.

What is postpartum depression (PPD)?

This is a deep and ongoing depression that can start during pregnancy or at any time up to a year after the birth of a child. Although more birth mothers are diagnosed with PPD, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, it can affect all parents – even fathers and adoptive moms and dads (Postpartum depression, CMHA). This is because biological or hormonal change is only one of the causes associated with it. In large part, sleep deprivation, lifestyle and environment can also trigger this condition (Postpartum depression can happen to any parent, Julie Beck, The Atlantic).

How do I know that I have it?

Symptoms of PPD include (from the Winnipeg Health Region.ca (WRHA) page on PPD) :

  • strong feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • feeling hopeless or worthless
  • can’t stop crying
  • constant fatigue, even after resting
  • trouble falling asleep or want to sleep all the time
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • loss of interest in activities and relationships you usually enjoy
  • little or no interest or pleasure in your baby
  • changes in your appetite or weight
  • irritable or angry much of the time
  • feeling resentful towards your baby
  • feeling very anxious, trapped, overwhelmed or out of control
  • constant worry about your baby’s health or safety
  • racing or repetitive thoughts that cause you anxiety
  • afraid to be alone with your baby

In more severe cases, parents affected can have thoughts of harming themselves or the baby. For cases like this, call 911 or the WRHA Crisis Service at 204-940-1781 (open 24 hours a day, seven days a week). You can also go to the WRHA Crisis Response Centre at 817 Bannatyne Avenue. You can also seek help from the Klinik Community Health Centre Crisis Line at 204-786-8686 or the Manitoba Suicide Line at 1-877-435-7170 (both are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week).

Where to get help

The first step to treating this condition is to talk to someone. Seek the help of a health professional who can understand and provide counselling, support and/or appropriate medication. In Manitoba, you can talk to a Public Health Nurse (204-926-7000) or your family doctor. If you don’t have one, call the Family Doctor Connection Program at 204-786-711. You can also get support from the Women’s Health Clinic.

Counselling can be greatly bolstered by a support group especially when you feel that you are alone. There are many places in the province where moms can share their experience in a non-judgmental setting. These places can be facilitated by medical professionals and volunteers who have experience in PPD. A list can be found here: Manitoba support groups.

Remember that there is no shame in getting help. The sooner you reach out, the faster you can get over your PPD.

Prevention

There are several factors that place people at risk of PPD. Among them are a history or a previous episode of mental illness, such as depression, bipolar or OCD (The Facts, Postpartum Depression Association of Manitoba). For newcomer moms, situations such as a recent big life change (such as a move), lack of support in caring for your baby, or financial stress can contribute to PPD.

This is why taking prenatal classes is recommended. Knowing what to expect and learning how to prepare for the difficulties in taking care of a newborn can greatly reduce anxiety and create realistic expectations. Having a Wellness Plan is also a good idea as good nutrition, ample sleep and regular exercise are essential elements to maintaining good physical and mental health.

Watch this video from Kids in the House featuring Dr. Shoshana Bennet, PhD, for great advice on how new moms can prevent postpartum depression:

Sources: Winnipeg Health Region.ca, Postpartum Depression Association of Manitoba website; Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA); Baby Center.ca; and Nutrition Instincts.com. Article updated June 14, 2019.

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Community Resources

If you are in Winnipeg, go to this page to know where to get help: Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

More resources about PPD can be found at the Pacific Postpartum Support Society, Postpartum Support International, and the Women’s Health Clinic. You can find information about pre and post natal government supports from the Healthy Child Manitoba page of Manitoba.ca.

Need more health tips for expectant or new moms? Go to Manitoba Parent Zone. Also read Health tips for expectant and new moms and Supports for newcomer moms (or expectant moms).

If you are a single parent, download the Parenting on Your Own pamphlet published by the Government of Manitoba to find out about supports and resources. You may also be interested in joining the Single Parents Winnipeg group if you want to share your experience or learn more about being a single parent.

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