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Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues What's a Husband to do?

by Dale Kiefer
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Bringing baby home is an exciting time. Thrilled with your new arrival, you soar on an adrenaline high for longer than you thought possible. But eventually the excitement fades a bit. Visits taper off and the realities of sleep deprivation and emotional exhaustion set in, as you begin the tough work of adjusting to this massive change in your life.

Color her Blue

You are a family now, and you're finding your way. As the initial elation ebbs, you may notice a subtle change in your spouse. At first you may chalk it up to weariness. She's missing a lot of sleep, after all. And what little sleep she is getting is inevitably interrupted sleep at best, especially if she is breastfeeding. As her mood heads south, you may find yourself wondering if something is wrong. Shouldn't she be happier than ever? Don't you have the joy in your life now that you both hoped and prayed for?

Don't be too alarmed if your wife becomes listless or unpredictably emotional. Chances are she's got a normal case of the "baby blues". Although it is not often discussed, the so-called baby blues are one of the less pleasant, but fairly common, realities of the postpartum period. Although it may disturb you to witness this latest change in your wife, it may help if you understand that a bout of the blues after delivery is quite common.

Characterized by wild mood swings ranging from uncontrollable crying jags, to feelings of anxiety, to a general sense of unhappiness, the baby blues have been estimated to occur in anywhere from 50 percent to a whopping 90 percent of first time mothers. Because most new mothers believe that they should be nothing but content, these unbidden negative feelings may be compounded by guilt. Scientists believe that a drastic drop in estrogen and progesterone levels following delivery probably triggers the whole mess.

Consider it your job to remain supportive and understanding during this period of trial by fire. It may even help to think of yourself as a much-needed punching bag. In any event, don't take things personally. It's just the hormones talking. She doesn't want to act this way, but may have little choice. If you can endure this latest challenge for a few weeks, you'll probably see some relief soon enough. As hormone levels stabilize and mom and baby settle into a routine, the baby blues usually disappear by the sixth week. Your wife will return to her "old self" again, as her energy levels and sense of perspective return to normal.

The best you can do to get the family through this period is to help as much as possible. Change as many diapers as possible. Take care of meals and cleaning the house. Do some laundry. Bring home some flowers and tell your wife that you love her, that she's doing a great job as a mother, and that she's attractive. Women who lack adequate help and support have a harder time snapping back from the baby blues.

Beyond the Blues

Unfortunately, the blues will not disappear as spontaneously as they arrived for about 10 to 20 percent of new

mothers. A more serious condition known as postpartum depression may develop. Until the recent tragic Yates case, postpartum depression received scant attention. That high-profile case (and others like it) have served to raise public awareness of this potentially dangerous condition. But many new parents say they lack adequate information about the risks of postpartum depression.

As a new father it's extremely important that you know the signs of postpartum depression, and that you take action on your mates behalf if you suspect her ordinary baby blues are actually postpartum depression. If any of the following symptoms persist for more than a week, notify your doctor immediately and discuss your concerns.

- Inability to sleep, or sleeping too much Loss of appetite, or overeating

- A lack of interest in -- or an inability to take pleasure from -- any of the activities that normally interest her

- An inability to concentrate on simple tasks

- Persistent feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or lack of control

- Noticeable lethargy, or obvious hyperactivity

- An abnormal preoccupation with the baby's health

- Suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming the baby

The Facts

The baby blues may occur anytime between birth and six weeks after. Postpartum depression occurs between six weeks and one year after childbirth. Postpartum depression is a medical -- not a psychological -- problem. As with "ordinary" depression, your understanding and compassion are essential to her recovery. She isn't a bad mother, wife or person for acting this way, any more than a heart patient is a bad person for requiring oxygen and medications. She is ill and requires medical attention.A very small percentage of those suffering postpartum depression may develop an even more serious condition known as postpartum psychosis. This illness may lead a woman to consider harming herself or her child. Evidently, Andrea Yates suffered from this more extreme condition. Clearly it requires immediate medical intervention. Women with a family or personal history of depression are more likely to suffer postpartum depression. Weaning may also trigger depression, due changing hormone levels. Because of the nature of this illness, your wife may be unable to either recognize or admit that anything is seriously wrong. It is up to you to seek help.

Dale Keifer is a freelance writer and contributing writer for Baby Corner.

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lina Jun 15, 2010 02:58:43 AM ET

My son is about to turn nine months. lately i've been feeling ugly and not as attractive as i once was. could this be baby blues? and if so, why so late after birth?

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Natasha Boodansingh Apr 12, 2010 09:30:19 AM ET

I thought this was a great article for both moms and dads. i have the baby blues and was feeling terribly guilty. i have been arguing with my spouse and feeling like a bad wife and mom for it. i wasn't sure why i was feeling so sad and on edge, but now i know that it could actually be hormonal and that things will improve.

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