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Working Through Post-Partum Depression
28 November 2013
You might be well-prepared financially, but controlling whether or not you will suffer post-partum depression is just not possible. You can’t think or will your way out of post-partum depression — but it’s important to recognise the signs if they occur, because you can do something about it, saving you and your family much heartache.
For working women, it’s also important to make sure that returning to work happens at the right time, for the right reasons. While it can be beneficial to work through depression, it can also increase any feelings of vulnerability you might have.
Hormonal Changes that Trigger Emotional Distress
It’s common for women to experience mild feelings of depression in the first few days after giving birth; this is commonly referred to as the baby blues, and it happens to up to 80% of women. It’s generally thought this occurs as a result of the rapid changes in hormone levels that occur within the first few days after a woman gives birth. During pregnancy, the body’s levels of hormones like progesterone and oestrogen are steadily increasing, but after giving birth they drop very quickly. It’s difficult for the body and mind to adjust to these changes as quickly as they happen, and the result is feelings of irritability and anxiety, which are sometimes accompanied by mood swings. For most women, these feelings last less than seven days; for others, they can linger much longer, and may develop into post-partum depression. The onset of this type of depression can also be delayed by several months, with symptoms appearing up to a year after birth. Women with this disorder may experience strong feelings of sadness and guilt, dramatic mood swings, changes in eating or sleeping habits, fatigue, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Sometimes, women who develop this type of depression have trouble bonding effectively with their newborn babies. Alternatively, they might develop that bond easily, but feel unable to cope with the demands of caring for an infant. Either way, many women begin to think of themselves as bad mothers, a feeling which only exacerbates the depression. A woman should seek treatment if the feelings associated with the depression persist longer than a couple of weeks; typically treatment will include psychotherapy, and sometimes medication.
Returning to Work
The decision on when and how to return to work is a highly personal one. Some women must return earlier than they’d like for financial reasons, while others would prefer to get back to work more quickly, but are prevented for health or other reasons. There’s no right or wrong choice, only the one that works best for you and your family. Some women feel unable to cope with work in the midst of depression, while for others, work helps them get through it. In an ideal world every woman would be able to make that choice purely based on their own needs and preferences, but it’s not always that easy, and unfortunately, learning how to cope with post-partum depression is even more difficult if you don’t, for whatever reason, have the time you need to adjust before returning to work. While for some women, returning to work sooner rather than later is a welcome distraction from the depression, for others, it’s too much too soon.
What Benefits can Working Bring?
At any stage of life, one of the biggest benefits of working is that it fosters a sense of individual identity; this is something that many people struggle with after becoming parents, but due in part to social expectations of women as mothers, it’s typically a harder struggle for women. During pregnancy and after giving birth you’re increasingly focused on your baby, but at work, you have the opportunity to reconnect with your old self. This can be a real benefit for new mothers in particular, as many people struggle with feelings of lost identity upon becoming a parent for the first time, and these feelings can exacerbate post-partum depression. For women coming to terms with depression, getting back to work after giving birth can be beneficial in many additional ways.
• Work provides your day and week with structure, which helps to combat the feelings of “sameness” that make depression feel like it will last forever.
• Being busy at work provides distraction from depressive feelings.
• Achieving at work improves your self-esteem and reminds you that you have value as an individual.
• Being in a different environment and coping with the demands of a work day can be physically tiring, helping you sleep more easily at night.
• At home you might feel that the depression overshadows your interactions with family, but at work it’s feasible to force the depression to take a back seat.