Monday, April 16, 2012

The Baby Blues

Most of us have heard of the baby blues, when mothers of newborns go through a rough emotional patch after the intense physical act of giving birth.  A new mom has been gearing up for this for nine months, dealing with fears of the unknown,  with excitement and eagerness, with the weight of this huge responsibility on her shoulders, not to mention the growing weight around her midsection!

She's also been dealing with the high doses of hormones pumping through her veins as the baby grows inside of her, and her body goes into major mommy mode, preparing milk production, loosening ligaments and muscles for delivery and secreting hormones into her brain that will cause her to be extra alert and viciously protective of her new child.

Once baby comes, there is the extra stress of exhaustion, nights of limited sleep, constant feedings and diaper changes, and she is forced to enter a new universe where everything revolves around baby's gravitational pull - at least for a while.

For a woman who is not emotionally prepared, this high level of stress can crush her.  The baby blues of being a little irritable, extra tired and in need of some loving hugs and kisses from her husband and children, can turn into something much more harmful.  Full blown depression can set in, and it can last even for years.

The Mayo Clinic website lists these symptoms of post-partum depression:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swing
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
  • Untreated, postpartum depression may last for a year or more.
The mother often suffers silently, with everyone around her assuming that she is fine and should be fine with such a beautiful baby in her arms.  But the one who usually suffers the most, is her own baby who often is rejected, and treated as if she or he were unwanted.  It doesn't matter how much this mother did want the baby before it's birth, this form of depression can erase all of those positive emotions and replace them with resentment.  That natural protectiveness that a mother's hormones automatically create, somehow doesn't kick in.  Instead of seeing her baby as an extension of her own body, she sees him or her as a foreign object, a burden. 

For those who think that a baby is just fine as long as it is fed, clothed, changed and given enough sleep, are not aware of the damaging effects of being raised by an emotionally distant mother.  Even infants can sense the emotional state of the home where they live, and any loving words, sounds, touches and caresses he or she receives, instantly create pathways in the brain that stay with them for life.  If they are neglected emotionally, they reflect that in their mental and social development. If they are well loved and stimulated emotionally, that is also reflected very early on and is foundational for who they become as adults.  

It is crucial for women suffering with post-partum depression to get the help they need, for themselves and also for the sake of their newborns and the rest of their family.  But as with all forms of depression, it's not enough to tell a woman to just snap out of it and start acting happy. In fact, you'll probably make her feel worse about herself if you speak to her in such a condescending way.

What I have found in our years of counseling, that this intense time of bringing a newborn into the world, can often unearth deeper issues that had remained hidden until then. She needs more than anti-depressant medications, but real help to identify the issues, fears, unresolved anger and frustrations - the real roots of her problems, so that she can begin to heal.  

How can that be done?  Wait for the next post to find out...

1 comment:

thevwoman said...

This is a really interesting post. I'm not a mother but know (thought I knew) about post-natal depression but not on this scale. I have friends that have had babies and what you say is so true, you see the mother with the baby in her arms and we cue over the baby but what about the mother? Is she remembered? We look at the baby who is well looked after but we never stop to think what the mother may be going through, if they are sleeping, getting time to read the word of God which could even affect their spiritual life. This really is food for thought and it also shows me that rushing in to starting a family is not wise but should be well thought about.

Thank you Mrs Evelyn