When it’s more than just the ‘baby blues’

Why we need to talk about the growing problem of postpartum depression.

By Lena Sotherin

Postpartum depression, or PPD, isn’t simply a bout of ‘baby blues’. The emotional adjustment following childbirth might feel like sadness or irritability, anxiety, or reduced concentration, but it will generally ease up over a short period of time.

Symptoms of postpartum depression are usually diagnosed within six weeks to six months after childbirth, and can be so severe that they become life-threatening.

These symptoms, writes Catherine Atuhaire, a lecturer at Mbarara University of Science & Technology, include loss of interest in usual events, sleep challenges, feelings of sadness, appetite problems, and difficulty in coping with daily activities.

In extreme cases, PPD can result in diminished mother-to-child bonding, and childhood growth impairment and underdevelopment.

According to Mayo Clinic, other feelings may include worthlessness, guilt, inadequacy, and hopelessness. The long list of symptoms paints a picture of deep distress.

Data for PPD in Africa is scarce. The few existing studies estimate the magnitude to be 15 to 25 percent, but this number could be even higher.

More localised studies seem to support this. A 2020 study titled “Prevalence and risk factors associated with postnatal depression in a South African primary care facility” reports that the prevalence may be as high as 34,7% in a peri-urban area, and higher than 50% in a rural setting.

Considering its potentially extreme consequences for the individual, baby, family, and even the broader community, it’s a wonder that PPD isn’t a greater topic of conversation for would-be and postpartum mothers.

One reason could be culturally held beliefs about motherhood and fatherhood. Parents may be reluctant and even embarrassed to admit to what they consider a failure.

And yet, support is widely available. The Netcare Akeso Behavioural Healthcare Group recently launched a postnatal depression unit, where mothers are cared for by a multi-disciplinary team, while their babies are cared for by trained nursing staff.

Self-care is also important for mothers battling postpartum depression. Kim Serebro, a counselling psychologist practising at Netcare Akeso Parktown says that for many mothers, self-care is deemed as self-centred.

“Acknowledging that you are deserving of self-care facilitates the establishment of a positive self-esteem and helps to build self-worth,” advises Serebro. Strategies for self-care don’t necessarily require excessive amounts of time or financial resources.

There are five key contributors to self-care in maternal mental health, says Serebro. These are movement, mindfulness, making time for yourself, managing emotions, and making contact when you need support.

If you, or anyone you know, are in need of support for postpartum depression, please contact your general practitioner or mental health professional, or get in touch with Akeso on 0861 435 787 or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 0800 567 567.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.

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