Motherhood is one of the most amazing experiences any woman can go through. For most women, the innate maternal instinct kicks in during their twenties, and they start fantasizing about having a baby and nurturing it with care and love. When that monumental moment finally arrives, after a physically-challenging 9-month period and an even more painful labor, the emotional roller-coaster ride begins. Relatives and friends sometimes witness the new mother crying for no reason, over-reacting to trivial matters, and a bit too worried about the baby's well-being.
Whether you are a mother of an infant or someone who knows one, you should be able to identify the signs and symptoms of an illness called 'Postpartum Depression' (PPD). This is NOT to be confused with the 'Baby Blues', which occur immediately after birth and do not last for more than 2 weeks, at the most. PPD is a more serious, prolonged mental condition that adversely affects the mother, and needs treatment. Here are the signs that can help you identify this illness:
- Extension of Baby Blues. The "Baby Blues" -- weepiness, sleep-deprivation, fatigue, worry about the baby's well-being, and lack of energy -- are part of common post-birth behavior for most women. However, if these symptoms linger beyond the two weeks after the birth, or appear any time in the first two years thereafter, they are an indication of PPD.
- Lack of interest in leisure activities previously enjoyed. The mother might be seen "letting herself go" in a big way if she has PPD. She'll no longer venture out of the house, will keep herself unkempt and ungroomed, not change her clothes too often or buy new ones, and generally lose interest in hobbies she previously relished or pursued with zeal (such as gardening, interior decorating, eating out, exercising, working at a job, etc.). She might even be unconcerned about looking good or feeling good about herself.
- Inability to sleep/over-concerned about the baby. The mother might not be able to sleep a deep, sound sleep even if the baby is sleeping peacefully. She might stay awake like an owl, waiting for the baby to move or cry for a feed.
- Inability to concentrate. Most mothers suffering from PPD are unable to fully concentrate on matters; their decision-making and analytical abilities get reduced. They are also forgetful and dazed, bordering on being totally insensitive and indifferent to important matters they previously looked after.
- Overreacting to trivial matters/weepiness/mood swings. This is one of the clearest indicators of PPD. A new mother might break into tearful, loud outbursts as she feels overwhelmed by parenting responsibility. She might start shouting, sobbing or making accusations at others for no apparent reason. If there is an older child that is demanding and difficult, this sympton is even more pronounced.
- Negative thoughts and emotions. Apart from her mind being fogged by a potpourri of emotions, a new mother suffering from PPD will frequently think despondent thoughts, such as "I'm a terrible mother", "Why did I have this baby? I will never be able to raise these kids", or "I will never have my life back. I am going to be housebound with this baby forever". These thoughts will manifest themselves in her body language as fatigue, droopiness, or sleeping too much. In stark contrast to symptom number 3 above, a new mother might feel so estranged from her baby (thinking it to be the cause of her lack of control over her life) that she might not respond when the baby cries for milk, and might not bother to take her to the doctor for routine check-ups or vaccinations. She might literally abandon the baby in some senses, refusing to care for her, and show panic when/if left alone with her, desperately asking her mother/sister/nanny to stay and not go.
- Harm-inflicting inclinations. This is one of the danger signs that PPD has gone out of control and requires medical intervention. A mother might start to think about harming herself or her baby. In a fit of temper, she might strike her baby, or isolate herself in the bathroom or closet and cut herself.
Timely intervention is a must at the onset of PPD. There are several remedies and cures for this mental condition. The majority of cases can be cured in early stages by the family of the new mother, by showing her immense physical and moral support, helping her to take care of the baby, and showing patience with her emotional instability for the first six months after childbirth. Only in extreme cases should medication, such as anti-depressant drugs, be used to cure this illness.