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Biology 202
2003 Second Web Paper
On Serendip

Postpartum Depression

Nupur Chaudhury

Most of us were appalled when, in 2001, Andrea Yates, a Texas mother, was accused of drowning her five children, (aged seven, five, three, two, and six months) in her bathtub. The idea of a mother drowning all of her children puzzled the nation. Her attorney argued that it was Andrea Yates' untreated postpartum depression, which evolved into postpartum psychosis that caused her horrific actions (1) . He also argued that Andrea Yates suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of her fourth child, and that she attempted suicide twice for this very disorder ((1)). What is postpartum depression, and how can it cause a mother to harm her very own children, altering her behavior towards her children in a negative way?
One in ten women experience postpartum depression ((2)), a condition that often goes undiagnosed, and occurs in women after childbirth. A reason for the lack of diagnosis of postpartum depression is a milder, more common form of depression after childbirth, often known as the "baby blues". The baby blues occur in mothers three to five days after childbirth ((2)) , and may last for as little as a couple hours to a couple weeks ((4)). These symptoms include

* mild sadness
* tearfulness
* anxiety
* irritability, often for no clear reason
* fluctuating moods
* increased sensitivity
* fatigue ((2))

The treatment for the baby blues are frequent naps, a proper diet, and plenty of support from partners, family, and friends ((3)). Generally, the baby blues subside without any sort of serious treatment. However, the baby blues may evolve into postpartum depression. One study discovered a link between postpartum depression and the baby blues: out of the women that were diagnosed with postpartum depression six weeks after delivery, two-thirds of them experienced the baby blues ((2))
Postpartum depression is more serious than the baby blues, with mothers experiencing symptoms with a greater severity and a longer duration than the baby blues. Almost ten percent of recent mothers experience postpartum depression ((3)), occurring anytime within the first year after childbirth ((3)). The majority of the women have the symptoms for over six months ((2)) . These symptoms include

* Constant fatigue
* Lack of joy in life
* A sense of emotional numbness or feeling trapped
* Withdrawal from family and friends
* Lack of concern for yourself or your baby
* Severe insomnia
* Excessive concern for your baby
* Loss of sexual interest or responsiveness
* A strong sense of failure and inadequacy
* Severe mood swings
* High expectations and over demanding attitude
* Difficulty making sense of things ((3))

Consequently, the treatment for postpartum depression is more intense than that for the baby blues. Among the many treatments, many mothers undergo intense counseling, take antidepressants, or even experience hormone therapy ((3)).
In rare instances, postpartum psychosis is diagnosed (one-tenth or two tenths of a percent experience it ((2)) ). When experiencing postpartum psychosis, new mothers can experience auditory hallucinations, as well as delusions and visual hallucinations ((4)), making them lose their sense of what is real and what is false. Treatment is imperative an often times done under immediate hospitalization.
What is about childbirth that leads to depression, whether it is a mild or severe form, and how does that affect the brain? The causes of postpartum depression are vague and have yet to be defined by researchers. It is thought that it is the hormonal changes that may trigger the depression. During the nine months of pregnancy, the woman's level of estrogen and progesterone increase significantly ((4)); however, within the first twenty-four hours of childbirth, the hormone levels drop dramatically, back to the level that they were before pregnancy ((4)) . It is this dramatic hormonal change that is believed to be the cause of postpartum depression among new mothers. This hormonal change can be equated to the "mood swings" that a woman experiences during her menstrual period, a time when her hormone levels are slightly irregular(1). Additionally, thyroid levels can also drop during childbirth, and thus may be a factor in postpartum depression ((4)).
Consequently, ways to prevent another Andrea Yates from going too far is to treat postpartum depression seriously. Because the baby blues are so common, postpartum depression and psychosis are often misdiagnosed as the baby blues, or even more frequently, not diagnosed at all. Thus, postpartum depression must be taken seriously.


1)Study Works! Online: What is Postpartum Depression?

2)Postpartum Depression and Caring for Your Baby

3) Postpartum Coping: the Blues and Depression

4)Frequently Asked Questions about Postpartum Depression

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