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Over the years, women have become more and more liberal and independent. And over the years, as a woman’s position in society has developed, along with the expectations of society, many have started to reconsider when to begin having children or whether to have children at all.
Perhaps you heard about Brooke Shield’s story? She had a baby, but then began a terrible struggle against depression, which led to treatment and eventually recovery. Did you know that 80% of women suffer from so-called ‘baby blues’? Baby-blues, sometimes called maternity blues, is the depressing feeling that sweeps over new mothers a few hours to a few days after the baby is born. Baby blues’ symptoms are usually mild, but can include tearfulness, irritability, sleeplessness, impairment of concentration and headache.
The problem is when these symptoms stay for weeks and weeks. This can start to affect you and the baby. When baby blues do not improve a month after delivering a baby, psychiatrists diagnose a disorder called postpartum depression or PPD, also known as Post-natal Depression. About half of all women who are pregnant develop baby blues to some degree, but only around one in ten of those go on to suffer PPD.
There are several factors that make it more likely that a woman will develop PPD. These factors include:
- Pre-natal depression. If the mother is depressed while she is pregnant she has a much higher possibility of developing PPD after delivery. The milder the depression during pregnancy, the milder the PPD is likely to be. Conversely the severer the depression is during pregnancy, the severer it usually is after delivery.
- Childcare stress. Often, when the first child is born the mother does not have enough social support. This can cause worry, anxiety, and panic attacks. Questions run through the mother’s mind like, “What will I do if the baby gets sick?” “What if the baby falls from the bed?” “What about my life?” “Will I be able to do the things I used to do, like shop, go out with friends or have coffee with my neighbors?”
- Poor Marital Relationship. When we make our vows on our wedding day, we promise our partners a lifetime of love and support. But life is not always that easy and some marriages are temperamental, and have difficulty handling problems. If the father is not helpful then the mother may feel like she is not being supported. If the woman is worried about where her husband is all the time or what he is doing, while at the same time her baby is crying and asking for his next feed, this can contribute to the development of PPD.
- A history of depression. A mother could be more susceptible to PPD if she suffered from severe depression in the past.
- Being a single parent. No one said being a single parent is easy. The mother has to be able to work and care for her child at the same time. This can create stress for the mother which she then displaces onto her baby.
- Financial constraints. They say in Egypt “When a baby arrives it brings its fortune”, but for some mothers this is not always the case – especially when they can’t find the money to pay for the diapers, the expensive canned food and the baby’s medication. This puts young mothers under pressure to be careful with money – but everyone knows that with babies disasters can happen at any time, which can be expensive to sort out. Having a baby also means it can be difficult to maintain a stable income.
- Having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. This can create big problems for both the mother and the baby, especially if the mother does not actually want the baby. She may feel overloaded or that she has made an abrupt decision. She may feel overwhelmed or that she is not up to looking after the baby physically or emotionally.
The most important factor that can lead to PPD is a lack of a support network. Some people may complain when the new grandmothers decide to take over, eager to spend time with the new baby. But some mothers would be glad if this was the case. Some mothers do not have mothers or mother-in-laws to help them. The stress of learning on their own how to heat bottles, change diapers and breast feed 20 times a day can be just too much to bear.
When a mother develops PPD she can become inconsistent with her childcare. They may not respond to the baby’s cues, and this can lead to an insecure attachment. We all know that mothers should hold, rock, coo, stroke and talk softly to her baby. If that does not happen, the infant can grow up to be passive, withdrawn, or have problems talking due to bad communication between him/her and his mother.
When does this reach a level that is dangerous? When the mother does not seek professional help from a psychiatrist she can start hating her baby. This can lead to postpartum psychosis, which is when the mother starts having delusions or hallucinations. Untreated she can become harmful to herself or to her child. In some PPD cases which have gone untreated, mothers have been known to kill their children or even themselves – due to too much stress!!
So when the post natal blues linger more than a few weeks, be sure to tell your family doctor or a psychiatrist, so he can help you shake the blues away!