Postnatal Depression: What is it? How can exercise help it?

Many women experience a little bit of “the baby blues” after birth. After all, being woken up by a baby crying at 2 a.m. for the fourth time in one night would be trying for anyone. A little bit of the blues or some minor mood swings are normal in the postpartum period; your body just went through some major hormonal and physiological changes. But for about 10 to 20% of women, these feelings are more than just baby blues….they’re the result of postnatal depression.

What is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression, is defined as depression experienced by a mother after giving birth. It can occur at any time within the first year after birth. Many factors come into play when it comes to causes. It is likely due to a combination of the hormonal changes of childbirth on the one hand and psychosocial factors such as adjusting to the rigors of being a mother on the other hand. It is not due to any fault of the mother. You can get postnatal depression even if you haven’t had it after previous pregnancies, and likewise, if you have had it after a previous pregnancy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get it with a subsequent pregnancy.

Signs of postnatal depression are similar to general depression and include feelings of hopelessness, excessive crying, mood swings, irritability, loss of appetite, and/or fatigue. Some mothers experience insomnia despite sleepless nights. Many get intrusive or obsessive thoughts. Some feel a sense of detachment from their baby.

A lot of people still don’t understand postpartum depression. Many assume that a mother “should” be happy, being that she’s just experienced what is usually one of the best times of her life. Many people are so focused on the new baby they overlook or downplay the new mother’s feelings. Many new moms themselves ignore signs of postnatal depression, assuming they’re simply experiencing the baby blues. And others are simply afraid to bring it up, assuming others will think of them as ungrateful or weak. There is, unfortunately, still something of a taboo surrounding the issue of mental health. This leaves some new moms burying their feelings, or adds a sense of guilt to those poor new moms, leaving them feeling bad that they’re anything but happy.

Can exercise help?

If you’re a mom-to-be, you’re probably wondering if there’s anything that can help stave off postnatal depression, or lessen the symptoms. That’s where exercise comes in. A study found that women who were active throughout pregnancy and after birth were less likely to experience the symptoms of postpartum depression.  And for those that develop postnatal depression, exercise can help in limiting the symptoms. Simply going for a walk lessens the symptoms of depression. Exercise even makes a difference in the prenatal period. One study showed that exercise before pregnancy resulted in less depressive symptoms during early pregnancy.

If you find yourself dealing with the symptoms of postpartum depression, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help.

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