Postpartum Depression (PPD) is one of the most common maternal mental illnesses. Research shows that PPD affects 20% of women after child birth, with higher rates in developing countries such as Kenya. In recent years, PPD has received a lot more attention, but the illnesses remain prevalent and untreated for the most part. This is why creating awareness and reducing the stigma of PPD is important. If you missed our last tweetchat on The Baby Blues and PPD, you can read it here.
Risk factors, just as the name suggests, refers to factors that increase the likelihood of a mom developing PPD. That is, what makes it more likely for mom A to get PPD and not mom B. The precise cause of PPD remains unclear, but it is thought to be linked to the sharp drop in hormone levels after childbirth. When this happens, alongside any of the risk factors mentioned below, then it means a mom is more likely to get PPD.
Read More: Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
One of the greatest risk factors for PPD is a history of depression and mental illness. Moms who have suffered depression before, or have lived with a mental illness are more likely to get PPD considering the physical and emotional changes that accompany pregnancy and child birth. Pregnancy depression, also known as antenatal depression, also increases the chances of PPD significantly, particularly in cases where it is left untreated.
Moms struggling with addiction to substance and alcohol abuse are also at a higher risk of PPD. This is because substances and alcohol may cause chemical changes in the brain, thus predisposing moms to the maternal mental illness. What’s more, addictions interfere with a mom’s ability to take care of themselves and the baby, increasing the intensity of the changes around the new mom.
Lack of support and/or prolonged isolation makes it easy for moms to develop Postpartum Depression. Without a solid support system to help a mom cope with the drastic changes following delivery, many new moms feel alone, isolated and often, overwhelmed. This is also the case for moms, especially young moms who get rejected by their families and/or father of their children.
Financial constraints/ lack of a job also increases the risk of PPD, for the simple reason that raising a child requires financial resources. From the cost of delivering to diapers, clinics, formula and everything in between, it is obvious that lack of money makes it harder for moms to adjust and certainly increases the likelihood of them developing PPD.
Major life events around the time of pregnancy and childbirth may also contribute to PPD. This is because they cause a major upheaval which adds on to the stress of raising a newborn (which is, in itself a major upheaval). Such life events include, but are not limited to job loss, buying a house, death of a loved one, divorce, relocating to a new town/country and the sudden change from a working mom to staying at home to take care of baby.
Moms who experience breastfeeding challenges are also more likely to get PPD, particularly in a society where there’s immense pressure to breastfeed. While we are cognizant of the amazing benefits of breastfeeding, the truth is that not all moms can do it for a myriad of reasons (from medication to low milk production and terminal illness among others). With societal expectations that all moms should be able to breastfeed, it is little wonder that those who are unable to feel ashamed, and feel like they have failed their babies. This also ties in with the high cost of formula which, in cases of moms with no financial resources, may be out of reach, further increasing the chances of Postpartum Depression. It is important too, to mention that Breastfeeding has great benefits, but moms need to remember too, that is OKAY to supplement with formula.
Pregnancy complications such as Placenta previa, Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Pre-eclampsia among others may lead to a traumatic birth experience which in turn is likely to contribute to PPD in new moms. This is also seen in moms who get multiples (twins, triplets, quadruplets etc), moms who get babies with special needs as well as those who have gotten kids following a miscarriage or infertility treatment.
It is important to remember that these are risk factors, and just because a mom has any of them does not necessarily mean she MUST get PPD. More importantly however, if you show any of these factors, it helps to speak to your doctor, gynae or midwife while still pregnant. This helps you to prepare for the journey, plan ahead and get medical treatment if necessary. Remember, PPD is treatable and you will be okay when you get help.
NOTE: PPDKenya is making a call out for moms with PPD, for those who would love to get therapy in a support group setting. We understand what you are going through and we will link you up with professionals who can help. More details here.