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What is it?
A condition in which a woman becomes miserable or frankly depressed after having a baby. It is extremely common, with some surveys showing that eight out of ten women feel low, weepy and depressed, and are easily upset, in the first week or two after a birth. These emotions may or may not be accompanied by a feeling of anxiety around the time of taking the baby home from the hospital-a condition seen more commonly in first-time mothers.
Usually post-natal depression is not sufficiently serious to prevent the sufferer from functioning normally, but is very unpleasant for her. Such a woman typically cries at the slightest provocation, perhaps for no reason at all, feels she can't cope with the baby, is critical or openly aggressive towards her partner, feels guilty about not loving her baby enough, goes off sex, loses her appetite, can't sleep, has nightmares, and may have panic attacks.
A1975 study found that of sixty-six women having their first babies 84 per cent experienced post-natal depression of some kind and 77 per cent were anxious. Twenty-four per cent were frankly depressed.
Post-natal depression starts at any time after the birth but the common 'baby blues' is experienced in the first few days and lasts only for a couple of days. More severe forms of depression start from 2-3 weeks post-natally, but can first appear as much as six months later.
What causes it?
No one knows for sure but there are several theories:
• Hormonal theories have always been popular because the levels of progesterone rise during pregnancy and then fall very suddenly immediately after the birth. Superficially this appears to be a plausible explanation but it is difficult to see how this sudden fall in hormone level could cause depression weeks or months later. Also, these very same hormones are deemed to be the cause of pregnancy depression in which progesterone levels are high-not low.
It was noticed many years ago that there were certain similarities between premenstrual symptoms and post-natal depression. Dr Katherina Dalton, a pioneer in this field, wondered whether there might not be a connection-possibly a shortage of one of the circulating hormones. Unfortunately, it is not easy to measure hormones post-natally because the levels swing wildly until the menstrual cycle re-establishes itself. Whilst we still have a lot to learn about hormonal abnormalities, several researchers have meanwhile found other abnormalities. One of these is:
Inadequate vitamin B6. This vitamin now has a proven place in the management of premenstrual tension and it has also been tested in the post-natal situation. One researcher gave 100 mg of the vitamin for twenty-eight days to more than 100 women who had already had one baby (thus ruling out first-timers). The results showed that the B6 group had much less depression than did those given a placebo and that the effects were particularly marked in those women who had premenstrual symptoms. Depression has been linked to a shortage of a neurotransmitter called serotonin and vitamin B6 shortage can cause too little of this to be produced in the body. Research in Birmingham (England) has found that the substance from which serotonin is made fails to rise after birth in some women who later become depressed.
Tiredness and sheer exhaustion are often cited as causes of postnatal blues but there is almost certainly more going on than this. Undoubtedly, physical and mental exhaustion are a part of the baby blues in some women but they are unlikely to be a major factor in true post-natal depression.
|Keywords for this page: Post-natal depression