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Postpartum depression: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention

Postpartum (or postpartum or postnatal) depression is a form of general depression that affects about 10 to 20% of women and generally begins 3 to 4 weeks after delivery. It is a serious matter and must be taken care of from the beginning.

The first signs are represented by tiredness, fatigue and lack of energy that are often not correctly interpreted. The depressed mother also tends to live in a withdrawn way and does not admit her discomfort.

Postpartum depression has multiple clinical manifestations and one of the greatest dangers that a woman who has suffered from this disorder runs is the high risk of future depressive episodes.

Diagnosis of postpartum depression

To correctly diagnose postpartum depression we must first differentiate it from other psychological sufferings found in the puerperium:

  • MATERNITY BLUES: mild mood disorder that does not imply long-term psychological consequences and has a spontaneous remission within two weeks. The symptoms, which occur a few days after the birth of the baby, show a certain emotional instability with easy crying, anxiety, fear, worries, irritability, sadness, nervousness, fatigue, sleep and appetite disorders;
  • PUEUPERAL PSYCHOSIS: very serious and, fortunately, infrequent mood disorder characterized by depression, loss of contact with reality, memory and thought disorders, delirious episodes and hallucinations. This disease occurs many quickly or within the first two months and requires hospitalization.
  • POSTNATAL POST-TRAUMATIC DISORDER: The development of this disorder depends on the traumatic experience of childbirth. The symptoms arise shortly after childbirth and consist of a persistent ritualization of the traumatic event through intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks. There are also disturbances in sleep, concentration, memory, hypervigilance, irritability and anger.

Symptoms of postpartum depression

The symptomatology of postpartum depression compromises the health of the woman and her relationship with the child.

Symptoms of postnatal depression are:

  • Depressed mood, sadness;
  • Uncontrolled crying;
  • Feeling of loss of value;
  • Anxiety and panic attacks;
  • Guilt and self-blame;
  • Tiredness, fatigue;
  • Speech and slowed movements;
  • Loss of interest in other activities including sexual activity;
  • Appetite disorders;
  • Reduced ability to concentrate and make decisions, mental confusion;
  • Emotional instability;
  • Sleep disorders;
  • Withdrawal from the world;
  • Defensive behaviors;
  • Negative judgment of oneself as a bad mother;
  • Denial of depressive experiences;
  • Obsessive concerns;
  • Sense of hopelessness, inadequacy and constantly pessimistic thoughts;
  • Anguish, thoughts of death and suicidal ideas.

Consequences of depression

Postnatal depression compromises not only the well-being of the woman but also the health of the child and the relationship with the partner.

This disorder has important repercussions in maternal function and in the development of an adequate mother-child relationship and is, in fact, a risk factor for child development.

Much research shows that postnatal depression has long-term effects on the child that include attachment disorders, cognitive and social disorders and developmental disorders.

Postnatal depression also has a high risk of Relapse and comorbidity with other pathologies. This disorder also compromises the couple relationship.

Partners of women with postnatal depression are also more likely to develop a mood disorder.

Prevention of depression

A preventive approach to pre- and post-natal education is of fundamental importance and allows the identification of the most vulnerable women already in the pre-natal period.

In fact, to reduce the risk of depression it would be useful to implement interventions before the onset of the disorder.

This type of primary prevention can also be provided thanks to welcoming birth accompaniment courses that allow future mothers to find space to express needs, share emotions, information and strategies.

The social network and mutual support become fundamental especially in the postpartum period.

Closeness, support and sharing are very important factors to accompany and support the psychological birth of the mother.

In addition to intervening on risk factors, above all by decreasing social isolation, there is a need to promptly diagnose postpartum depression in order to be able to intervene appropriately and reduce the long-term consequences for the woman and the child.

Contact with friends and family is essential

It is essential that the mother maintains contact with friends and family by learning to ask for help, strengthening the relationship with her partner, trying to communicate and express her emotions and needs.

Friends, partners and family members must pay attention to behaviors, learn to read in addition to silence, offering support in everyday life, understanding and empathic listening.

Motherhood is complex

When we think of the birth of a child, our mind fills with images of serene and rested mothers holding beautiful and peaceful newborns in their arms.

Advertising for children’s products conveys this message of beauty, serenity and perfection where everything seems natural and simple.

Motherhood, on the other hand, is a complex period where conflicting emotions coexist and where, at times, there are difficulties and suffering.

Being aware of it allows you to counteract guilt, not to perceive yourself as bad mothers by accepting your limits and learning to ask for help.

First of all, women must learn to listen, understand and communicate their discomfort and, to do this, they must know that they can receive help, support and encouragement from those around them.

Kathryn Barlow is an OB/GYN doctor, which is the medical specialty that deals with the care of women's reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Obstetricians provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, while gynecologists focus on the health of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, vagina, and breasts. OB/GYN doctors are trained to provide medical and surgical care for a wide range of conditions related to women's reproductive health.

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