Dear Nurse Felicia,
My sister just gave birth to her first child last month. She has a wonderful caring husband, a beautiful house, and a healthy baby girl but instead of being happy, she seems very sad, maybe even depressed. What can I do to help?
Many women go through a period known as the ‘baby blues’ in the weeks or months after giving birth. They may feel overwhelmed, moody, overtired, and cry or get upset easily.
These emotional ups and downs are generally caused by the normal hormonal changes which occur in a woman’s body during and after pregnancy but a less than helpful husband, lack of support from other family members, or a fussy baby can exacerbate the problem.
For many women who have left behind busy jobs or other social activities to be at home with their newborn, feelings of isolation can also be a factor.
Many women are afraid to seek help either from family, friends, or a therapist because they are embarrassed or fear being judged or labeled as a bad mother. Everybody expects you to be happy, right?
Talking to your sister, allowing her to express her feelings and reassuring her that they are normal is an excellent first step.
For most women, the ‘baby blues’ typically last for a few weeks and resolve naturally on their own but some women suffer from a more serious condition known as post-partum depression which can last for months and usually requires some form of treatment.
If your sister’s symptoms do not resolve after a few weeks, if she reports feelings of hopelessness or extreme anxiety, if she is unable to eat and losing weight (or overeating and gaining weight), or if she expresses thoughts of wanting to harm herself or her baby, you should assist her in seeking immediate medical attention.
Some women with mild post-partum depression may be treated just with counseling or psychotherapy but more severe cases typically require antidepressant medications as well.
Certain types of antidepressants are safe for use by women who are breastfeeding while others are not so it is important to consult with a doctor before taking any medication.
Exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and most importantly support from family and friends will also help your sister to make a quick and full recovery.
Felicia Price is an American Registered Professional Nurse working in Kigali.
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