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How does postpartum depression manifest itself – and what helps?

The child is delivered, but somehow the mother does not want to feel joy about it. Not an uncommon phenomenon. Postnatal depression affects 10 to 15 percent of all new mothers. They can’t form a bond with their newborn, despair over it, become unhappy. Tikbow offers tips for those affected and their families – and clarifies what distinguishes postpartum depression from baby blues.

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression should not be confused with the more common baby blues (= mood swings, exhaustion and phasically dampened joy über the child). According to the German Foundation for Depression (Stiftung Deutsche Depressionshilfe), baby blues occur in 50 to 80 percent of mothers in the first three to five days after birth and usually subside on their own without treatment.

However, if the moods persist, it is possible that the patient is suffering from postnatal depression. In addition to the emotional distress on the mother’s side, postnatal depression can also cause developmental problems in the child, which can be both cognitive and emotional in nature.

Causes of postnatal depression

There are many possible causes of postnatal depression. The Deutsche Depressionshilfe (German Depression Aid) cites physical, biochemical changes or complications during pregnancy. In addition, women who have had traumatic (birth) experiences or those who are generally prone to emotional problems and depressive moods are also more susceptible to postpartum depression.

Not to be underestimated are also personal factors (lack of a partner, financial situation) and the influence of society, which exerts pressure with a distorted image of motherhood.

In the specialist literature, hormone-related, non-specific changes in emotional activity during pregnancy continue to dominate as explanatory models. Comprehensive information on this topic can be found in a paper published by the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (TUM MRI).

Help for postnatal depression

First contact your family doctor to be referred to a suitable address. Exception: You are suffering from an acute emergency situation with, for example, suicidal thoughts. In this case, please report immediately to a psychiatric emergency service. The Foundation’s website also provides a hotline number and various contact points and addresses for help with depression.

Do not be afraid to talk about your problems within your private environment. Otherwise it can be difficult for relatives to understand your situation. The Stiftung Deutsche Depressionshilfe explicitly points out: "Postpartum depression is not a personal failure and not a sign that a woman is a bad mother or does not love her child enough." It is an illness that can be treated.

Therapy of postnatal depression

Tikbow received expert advice on the subject from Prof. Dr. med. Hans Moises, a specialist in psychiatry. He also reported on the most common and promising treatment options. These included interpersonal therapy (IPT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). For mild to moderate postpartum depression, individual  therapy was said to be as effective as group psychotherapy. More severe cases may benefit from the administration of antidepressants.