It’s estimated that between 70% and 80% of new parents experience low moods after giving birth. This can range from baby blues to more severe postpartum depression. Having a baby isn’t only an incredibly traumatic event for your body. You have to become accustomed to sleepless nights, changes in your hormones and keeping your new baby happy and well. This can take a toll on your mental health. While it’s advised that doctors routinely check in on new parents’ mental health up to six months after childbirth, a new study has found that postpartum depression may persist for three years after giving birth. Researchers have suggested that there may be a need for more extensive mental health support for new parents.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Health looked at the mental health of 5,000 new mothers over a three year period. They found that one in four experienced high levels of depressive symptoms at some time over that period. Others experienced low-level symptoms over this time.
Currently, it’s recommended that doctors check in on new parents’ mental health two, four and six months after giving birth. In these appointments, your doctor may check your mood, if you feel overwhelmed or having thoughts of either harming yourself or your baby. Other common symptoms are not feeling connected to your baby, eating and sleeping too little or too much and having trouble focusing or remembering things.
Conversations about mental health have really opened up over the last decade. However, there’s still silence and stigma attached to postpartum depression. While so many people experience feelings of sadness and being overwhelmed after giving birth it’s presented as a time to be joyful. This can shame people into not speaking. It’s believed that postpartum depression diagnoses would be much higher if the stigma attached to the condition was less.
Speaking about the research findings Diane Putnick, Ph.D., the primary author and a staff scientist in the NICHD Epidemiology Branch said, “our study indicates that six months may not be long enough to gauge depressive symptoms. These long-term data are key to improving our understanding of mum’s mental health, which we know is critical to her child’s well-being and development.”
Low moods can be triggered by different things during your pregnancy and after you give birth. Hormone changes, adapting to a new way of life with a newborn and the pressures that can come with parenthood can all contribute to postpartum depression. However, people who have become parents during the pandemic have had another worry to contend with.
Studies have highlighted that postnatal depression has tripled during Covid-19. According to research by the University of Alberta in Canada, the number of women who have reported symptoms of postpartum depression has increased to 41% from 15%. Similarly, the number of people reporting to feel moderate to high anxiety rose from 29% to 72%. Other studies have said this rise in depression and anxiety due to Covid-19 has also been seen in pregnant people.
“The social and physical isolation measures that are critically needed to reduce the spread of the virus are taking a toll on the physical and mental health of many of us,” explains Dr. Margie Davenport, co-author of the study at the University of Alberta, “we know that experiencing depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period can have detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of both mother and baby that can persist for years.”
The time after you have a baby can be really exciting. However, it’s also full of new experiences, a lack of sleep and your body is still healing. Having people around you who can support you is so crucial. However, during Covid-19 this has been compromised. If you’re worried about low moods then call your doctor and speak to a loved one as soon as possible. They should be able to offer you a safe space to talk and some treatment.