New mothers who are able to utilize the support of family and friends are better able to cope with the stressful period following the arrival of their baby, and are less likely to develop postpartum depression, according to psychiatry expert Dr. Suhaila Ghuloum, Senior Consultant at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Mental Health Service.
According to a research published by HMC in 2013, the prevalence of postpartum depression among psychiatry patients was just under 18 percent. The study also confirmed that risk factors in Qatar are similar to those found worldwide. These include lack of marital or family support, a complicated pregnancy, a history of depression, and various sources of stress such as financial problems, for example.
“While having a baby is one of the most joyous experiences we can have, it is also a major life event that can be very stressful for new parents. In addition, after childbirth the new mom experiences a dramatic drop in hormones that can leave her feeling fatigued, lethargic and depressed; she may also have emotional issues such as feeling less attractive or feeling as if she has lost control over her life,” said Dr. Ghuloum.
Families and friends can provide support in different ways, such as helping to look after the child or the household, especially if there are other children to care for. Many times, simply listening and understanding can also be immensely helpful. It is also important to watch out for signs or symptoms of depression, as people often may not recognize or acknowledge that they are depressed.
“Postpartum depression is different from ‘baby blues’ which are extremely common and usually go away on their own within a few days,” Dr. Ghuloum explained. “In baby blues, the new mom may be prone to emotional outbursts within a couple of weeks of having her baby. She may be extremely sensitive to any comment, cry or be upset easily, sometimes for no apparent reason, and be generally moody.”
For some women, however, these symptoms may indicate a more serious problem, particularly if they are severe or last for more than two weeks.
Sharing her experience after recently giving birth to her fourth child, a patient at Women’s Hospital said: “I have never felt as depressed as I did a few days after having my baby. It all started when I had to stay in the hospital for six days post-delivery due to rising blood pressure. During that period, I started having mood swings, feeling sad and depressed for no reason. There were times I felt like crying, and lethargic about doing anything.”
“It was the most awful moment for me as a new mom, because I never felt like that with my older children. It was the first time I would be all by myself without my extended family and friends around to support me. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of having to look after the baby alone and also ensure that my blood pressure was stabilized,” said the patient, who has had hypertension for the past five years.
The patient said she was thankful that her husband and other children did everything they could to help her care for the new baby as well as her mental and physical health. With their support, she was able to successfully cope with this stressful period without the need of medical intervention.
“Women’s mental health is a primary focus of public awareness for the National Mental Health Strategy. Postpartum depression is one of the priorities because it is relatively easy to treat, and once treated, the rewards are evident. When untreated, however, it can take a toll on a parent’s health and also affect the child’s development,” added Dr. Ghuloum.
In postpartum depression, the new mom may develop a persistently low mood or severe mood swings, overwhelming fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or inadequacy. She may start feeling guilty or fear that she is failing as a mother or cannot cope with the duties of motherhood. Her sleep may become more disturbed than normal for a parent caring for a newborn, and she may have a very poor appetite, leading to significant weight loss. She may feel unable to enjoy the experience of being a mom and have difficulty bonding with her baby.
“If you suspect that a loved one has postpartum depression, don’t wait and hope for improvement. Help them to seek professional medical attention as soon as possible, especially when the symptoms persist beyond a couple of weeks or seem severe. I would also encourage women to always discuss their symptoms with their doctor or obstetrician, who can then decide if a referral to HMC’s Mental Health Service is needed,” Dr. Ghuloum said.
Like other illnesses, depression can be managed with the right treatment, which may include psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both. Participation in a support group may also help.
In situations where social support is not readily available, however, or when there are significant thoughts of worthlessness or hopelessness and death wishes, HMC’s mental health specialists may discuss the option of hospitalization with the patient. In rare cases when the patient begins to develop delusions or thoughts of harming herself or her baby, it is important to seek immediate professional medical attention or call Qatar’s emergency number 999.