By: Laurie Edwards for Uterus1
Given all that is involved in delivering a baby, it’s certainly no surprise that new mothers are exhausted following the birth. But out of all that surrounds a new birth, it’s fatigue that lingers after those initial days of tiredness that is especially significant to researchers studying postpartum depression.
| Know Warning Signs ahead of Time|
It’s normal to be tired after giving birth – after all, think about all the work your body just did! It’s when fatigue persists for several weeks that it might be symptomatic of a larger problem.
If you’re anxious, sad or overwhelmed after delivering your baby, don’t worry. Those feelings are natural and usually subside within the first week of your baby’s life.
When anxiety, sadness, guilt and feelings of unworthiness continue to increase, consult with your physician. He or she can recommend medications and therapy treatments that can help.
Postpartum depression usually isn’t diagnosed until it’s already caused problems, so understand the risk factors involved and be vigilant.
In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological and Neonatal Nursing found that persistent fatigue after birth may be the strongest indicator of whether or not a mother will experience postpartum depression, even more significant than stress or a history of depression.
Not to be confused with the “baby blues” – the mood swings, appetite changes, feelings of sadness or anxiety that sometimes follow the birth of a baby and disappear on their own within several days of birth – postpartum depression can be a serious problem, and the earlier it’s diagnosed, the better the outcome for both mother and baby.
Postpartum depression occurs within the first year after birth, and an estimated 12 percent of women develop major depression during that time period. Symptoms include sadness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, anxiety and feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
Postpartum depression often affects a woman’s well-being and can interfere with critical mother-baby bonding. It can also negatively impact a woman’s relationship with her partner and any other children she may have.
While women are sometimes embarrassed to admit their symptoms to physicians, doing so is important because there are medications and therapies that can help. To this end, recognizing risk factors for developing postpartum depression is equally important.
“All mothers are tired right after having a baby – it helps them get the rest they need to recover and heal from the physical and mental stressors of childbirth,” said lead study author and associate professor of nursing at Ohio State University Elizabeth Corwin. “But for most women, fatigue steadily fades within the first two weeks of giving birth.”
Corwin and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University monitored 31 pregnant women from the near end of their third trimesters, when they were first asked about fatigue, stress and history of depression. They also tested the cortisol levels in the pregnant women, a hormone related to stress. Researchers followed up with each woman within seven days, two weeks and finally, four weeks of giving birth. Each time, the women were asked about stress, fatigue and depressive symptoms and provided a saliva sample to measure their cortisol levels.
By the fourth week, 11 of the 31 women reported symptoms of postpartum depression, and 10 of those women also reported higher levels of fatigue than normal two weeks earlier.
“For these women, the constant fatigue came first and depression followed,” said Corwin.
It’s important to note that out of the 11 women experiencing postpartum depression, seven of them had a family history of depression and four of them had experienced depression personally. While a history of depression has long been considered a predictor for postpartum depression, it was second to fatigue in terms of an indicator in this study.
“A personal history of depression is an excellent way to predict which women are at risk for postpartum depression,” Corwin said. “Still, using that as the sole screening tool would have left seven of the women undiagnosed.”
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