A Moment of Science

The Post-baby Blues

Having a baby is supposed to be one of the most wonderful things you can do. After nine pregnant months of discomfort and worry, endless doctor appointments, and hours of labor, you get the big payoff. Never mind that it first comes in the form of a red, wrinkled, howling creature covered in birthing fluids. Once the gunk is washed away, you’re rewarded for all your hard work with a beautiful baby.

So why do so many new mothers experience some form of post-birth mood disorder? The short answer: we’re not quite sure. Mood and anxiety disorders have a variety of causes. But current research focuses on hormones. During and after pregnancy, hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid start to change their levels. Because these hormones appear to strongly affect women’s moods, emotional chaos can ensue.

Post-birth mood disorders come in varying degrees of severity. The most common and least serious is a feeling of general letdown called the “baby blues.” Symptoms can include crying, impatience, and anxiety. These typically last for a short time and usually cease on their own. Meanwhile, one in ten new mothers experience postpartum depression.

Symptoms may include fatigue, sadness, hopelessness, confusion, memory loss, and even lack of interest in the baby. The most severe type of postpartum mood disorder is psychosis. Thankfully, it is also the rarest, occurring in approximately 1 in 1000 women.

Women suffering from this disorder experience hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre feelings and behavior. Postpartum depression and psychosis are serious disorders which should be professionally treated.

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