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On Baby Blues And Postpartum Depression

The Dark Cloud that hangs over all young Indian mothers

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In India, mother's love is a sacred thing. It is worshipped, put on a pedestal, and sacrifice is unquestionably asked of every mother. Most of the times, it is unquestionably given too.

Motherhood, it is said, is the most profound happiness a woman can ever experience, filling a hole she never knew existed. Lurking in the shadows of this new found bliss is something else. A gnawing feeling of loss, mourning that carefree girl she was before she became this sleep deprived, exhausted, aching shadow of herself. The fierce love that she feels for her child not only takes her by surprise, but also prevents her from handing the baby over to another carer, even when she may be too tired to do it all by herself. While she is grateful for this joy, she is are also aware of a growing resentment against the husband who snores as she wakes up yet again for the baby at night, and a stray comment from the well-meaning friend who told her that she still looks pregnant, may leave her curled up on the floor in a pool of tears.

Motherhood's fierce love has an evil twin- Baby Blues.

"About 70% women experience Baby Blues within the first week of giving birth. This includes symptoms like feeling anxious, irritable, tired and teary." Says Dr Deepika Gupta, a clinical psychologist who specialises in women's health. The statistic may seem surprisingly high for a society that doesn't seem to talk about anything except the overwhelming joy of being a mother. But we need to wake up and take stock, because if left unchecked, this could grow into something more sinister.

The symptoms of Postpartum Depression (PPD) could range from severe mood swings, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with the infant, loss of appetite or overeating, insomnia or sleeping too much, and panic attacks. If any of these symptoms gets worse with time, or goes on for more than 2 weeks, they must not be ignored. In extreme cases, the mother could even have thoughts of harming herself or the new born child.       

For Indian mothers there are some other factors that contribute to PPD. "Indian mothers often get nagged by family members for giving birth to a girl child, making her feel lower self-worth and anger which she directs to the infant in return. Many Indian households also practice certain rituals stringently which may not be relevant in today's times, like the 40 day confinement period where the woman may feel isolated and curtailed, leading to a build-up of further frustration, and the same may be channelized as anger towards the baby." observes Dr Deepika Gupta. Gender politics also plays a role in this. "In many families taking time off to take care of the babies is only the mothers prerogative. Lack of involvement on the part of the partners makes it much harder for the young moms" says Dr Garima Srivastav, Clinical psychologist. 
Lack of awareness, a general intolerance with the association of motherhood with anything negative, and stigma associated with mental illness in society, cause most to brush PPD under the carpet. The general attitude is that these feelings will gradually go away on their own, and the woman is often advised to 'snap out of it' and be grateful for the good things in her life. They are repeatedly told that everyone goes through this, and assured that these feelings will eventually go away on their own. Sadly, this may not always be the case. "You are ill therefore you think and feel what you do and not vice versa." Says Snigdha Mishra, Psychotherapist and Founder Director of Life Surfers.

PPD often goes undiagnosed, and untreated. Even though 1 out of 10 women are reported to experience PPD, there is no formal system of follow up visits for the mother by a health practitioner to ascertain her continued good emotional and physical health, which was given its due during the previous months of pregnancy. It's a gaping hole in women's healthcare which remains ignored.

So what can we do for the women we love who are going through this tumultuous phase in their lives? Awareness is the key. "It really is that simple- when people know better, they do better" says Snighda Mishra. "If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or know a new mother who may be at risk, please reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional" says Dr Deepika Gupta. There are ways to recovery, and frankly the alternative is simply not worth it. Be aware, and lets fight this together.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Charu Shankar

The author is an actor and fitness expert who specialises in Pre & Post Natal Fitness, Charu heads the Wellbeing Studio at Rosewalk Healthcare.

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