Becoming a mother to a newborn baby can be a very challenging and life altering experience. You may feel that nothing will ever be the same, that for better and worse, life as you once knew is now a thing of a past that won’t ever come back. Childbirth can be so demanding that a significant number of women experience some kind of affective disorder. Puerperium, the phase lasting 6 weeks following birth, can be very stressful since nothing short of perfection is expected and a tornado of events may rip apart the enjoyment of what is supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience.
After birth, a woman experiences body and hormonal changes responsible for an understandable susceptibility to psychologic fragility. This fraught state can be deepened and further complicated by a poor marital relationship, lack of family support, financial difficulties, reaction to the unplanned pregnancy, existence of previous episodes of depression, preterm birth, traumatic delivery, breastfeeding issues, and baby colic. Baby care can become a difficult burden to bear and the anticipated joy is now replaced by feelings of guilt, disappointment, and, as a consequence, humor disorders arise.
- Post-partum blues affects 30–75% of new mothers. Symptoms such as irritability, mood lability, and tearfulness generally begin a few days after delivery and lasts from a couple of hours to several days. It’s time-limited and requires psychological support. However, up to 20% will develop major depression during the first year.
- Post-partum depression affects 10–15%. Professional evaluation and possibly pharmacological treatment is required. First symptoms usually start within the first 6 weeks and may last from weeks up to several months. Suicidal thoughts are very common.
- Post-partum psychosis is the most severe form of affective illness and affects 0,1–0,2% of mothers. There is a span of symptoms that may occur which include depression, disorganized behavior, and/or hallucinations. These symptoms set within 48–72 hours after birth and hospitalization is mandatory. Genetic inheritance seems to be the major risk factor for developing such a serious disorder. Infanticide and suicide may be the consequences of an unsuccessful treatment.
Proper treatment will benefit both mother and the baby. In fact, if untreated, it is not just the mother’s health which is in jeopardy: the mother-baby relationship and the baby’s development are as well. In severe cases, the mother may even become abusive towards her newborn and herself.
The Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is a 10 questions self-reported inquiry that may be used to reach this diagnosis.