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Dealing with postpartum depression: A guide for new parents

A complete guide to deal with the mental health issue that affects one in five mothers in India

Not just women, postpartum depression can be experienced by men too
Not just women, postpartum depression can be experienced by men too (Unsplash/Jonathan Borba)

The first few weeks after childbirth are considered a precious time for new mothers to bond with their babies. But this is also the time period when the health of the mother is delicate, requiring proper care of her physical, emotional and mental health. Not doing so can lead to developing complications particularly postpartum depression. 

A mental health issue that grips about 20% of Indian mothers, here’s all you need to know about the condition along with guidance from experts on how to cope with it. 

What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a mental health condition that many new mothers suffer from, but it is rarely diagnosed and treated. Most women go through anxiety and depression after delivery and believe it is a part of the process. It is not. Postpartum depression is a dangerous global condition that is estimated to affect one in seven women in the world, but in India, the figure is closer to one in five. 

It is a complex mix of emotional, physical, and behavioural changes that take place after childbirth, causing you to feel physically weak and emotionally distraught. It is often confused with ‘baby blues’.

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“Baby Blues is a transient condition that lasts for 4-6 weeks and which affects 70% to 80% of new mothers. Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, unexplained tears, mood swings, and impatience. Baby Blues gradually recedes within days or weeks. Postpartum depression on the other hand persists for a month or longer. It drains a mother's physical and emotional strength and necessitates medical intervention for the well-being of both mother and child,” explains Swati Sule, a Mumbai-based clinical hypnotherapist and transpersonal regression therapist, who has a community called ‘SwaMukti Unleash Yourself’ on coto, a social community platform only for women.

Interestingly, it is not only mothers who might suffer from mild to severe symptoms of this depression; new fathers can experience it too. Sule elaborates, “Studies indicate that even new fathers may experience postpartum symptoms such as fatigue and changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Those with a history of depression or facing financial challenges may also be susceptible to postpartum depression.”

Symptoms of postpartum depression
The birth of a newborn is such a significant change in a couple’s life that often signs of postpartum depression can go unnoticed or sidelined as ‘normal’ behaviour. However, there are some clear indicators that show that a mother is suffering from depression.

The symptoms, according to Sule include profound sadness, sleep disturbances, disinterest in the baby, feelings of inadequacy, and even anxiety disorders. New mothers going through this condition tend to have a lot of negative thoughts too, such as, ‘I am not good enough for my baby,’ ‘I cannot handle this new phase,’ and also dangerous thoughts like, ‘Life is not worth living anymore.’ When these symptoms continue for more than 4-6 weeks, it is time to consult a doctor, as the mother is officially going through postpartum depression. If left undiagnosed or untreated at the right time, it can lead to behavioural complications like self-harm  or harming the newborn. 

“If a person continues to endure mood swings or feelings of depression for more than two weeks after childbirth, the problem may be more serious. If new mothers experience feelings of emptiness, emotionlessness or sadness all or most of the time for longer than four weeks, they might have postpartum depression,” observes Dr. Madhuri Bhatt, homoeopath and clinical hypnotherapist, who runs a community called Healing and Homeopathy, on coto. 

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Treating postpartum depression
While it is a serious condition, if diagnosed in time, it is possible to overcome postpartum depression with medication, a good physical routine and a strong support group.  

555 Postpartum Rule
The 555 postpartum rule is an effective first step in healing from the depressive episode. The postpartum period, also known as the puerperium or the fourth trimester, is the time after childbirth when the mother’s body experiences changes related to pregnancy. The rule lays down a simple formula of ‘five days in bed, five days on the bed, and five days around the bed’, giving yourself 15 days of complete rest post-delivery,” explains Bhatt. Following the 5-5-5 rule, she says, can help reduce the risk of postpartum injuries. 

Good nutrition
Nutrition plays a pivotal role in nurturing a new mother’s body from within. Bhatt elaborates, “Women may experience a complex mix of feelings and mood swings due to less sleep, change in hormone levels, and lack of self care. New mothers must increase their intake of healthier foods and drink plenty of water.”

Seek help
Motherhood is not a bed of roses. It brings with it many challenges, both physical and emotional. At such a time, it is important to seek help from friends and family. Bhatt says, “New mothers should not be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Let them know the ways in which they can provide support of any kind, including cooking meals, helping with laundry, doing household chores, babysitting siblings, amongst others.”

In fact, with an increasing number of cases coming to light regarding this mental health condition, many support groups are working actively to provide new mothers with all the guidance they need. Snugbub is a Bengaluru-based professional one-on-one WhatsApp support network that offers 24x7 guidance through posts and videos on postpartum depression and connects people to experts. #postpartumsupportindia is another such support group on Instagram for moms by moms. There are many such communities that you can connect with to get necessary guidance. 

Therapeutic methods
Today, apart from conventional medicine, we have access to various therapeutic approaches that recognise the profound connection between the mind and body. In case, the expectant mother has experienced earlier abortions or pregnancy trauma or either of the prospective parents has experienced early childhood or recent trauma, or is experiencing crucial relationship issues, it is highly recommended to heal these emotional issues before planning a baby. 

Sule advocates maintaining a consistent physical workout routine, guided by practices like yoga and breathwork. “This will give you some much-needed “me time” and also calm the mind,” she says. Start with short walks, some basic stretches, and include pranayama in your daily routine. Besides this, spend some time indulging in your favourite activity - be it reading, listening to music, catching up with friends or even going out for a quick coffee with your partner. 

Remember, a happy mother translates into a happy baby.  But just like you are responsible for your infant, you are accountable for yourself, too.

Shweta Dravid is a self confessed explorer who writes on travel, health, wellness, mindfulness and life truths.

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