Postpartum blues

You’ve just had a baby! You and your family automatically expect this to be a joyful time. But even mild depression can transform this happy period into a nightmare.

‘Baby blues’ is a mild and transient condition experienced by up to 70% of mothers within the first week to 10 days after delivery. Characteristic symptoms include weepiness, anxiety, difficulty in focusing, loss of appetite, irritability, insomnia and mood swings.¹ Episodes of weeping are often accompanied by a mood of anger or joy, rather than sadness.

‘Baby blues’ usually resolve within a few days. The symptoms are not severe and do not need professional treatment. Postpartum depression lasts longer and is more severe. It can begin any time within the first year after childbirth. Symptoms as listed above may also include thoughts of hurting the baby, thoughts of hurting yourself, and lack of interest in the baby. Postpartum depression needs to be treated by a doctor. Women with a history of depression are more likely to be depressed postnatally.

CAUSES OF POSTPARTUM BLUES AND DEPRESSION

Mood swings can be linked to stress caused by anxiety and the responsibilities of new parenthood. Tiredness and lack of sleep can also contribute, but the main cause is hormonal shifts. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone often drop after birth, which may lead to depression. At the same time, levels of cortisol increase. Thyroid gland activity may slow, resulting in depression, sadness, irritability and memory loss.

EFFECTS OF POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

The depressed mother cares for her baby like a robot. She functions, but thinks she is a bad mother, blames herself for not being able to cope, and often denies that she is depressed. She may experience anxiety and loss of interest in things that would usually be enjoyable. Blues and depression can affect many facets of interpersonal communication, including rate of speech, voice quality, eye-to-eye contact and emotional expressiveness, all of which can have a negative impact on the intellectual, emotional and social development of the baby if they last longer than a few days.

Newborn babies and the mother’s voice

A person who is depressed experiences changes in their speech. The mother’s voice is the most lovable music to the baby after birth. Its sound, melody and rhythm have an essential and formative psychological impact, conveying not only a verbal but also an emotional message. The low tone characteristic of depression can create a negative response. It has been shown that if the mother talks in a higher-pitched tone, the baby shows greater responsiveness.

Impact on the family

Severe postnatal depression will affect the rest of the family. The husband is often a for- gotten figure. He may be expected to look after his wife, the baby and the household chores, especially if there are no other carers or supporting friends. At the same time, the presence of a non-depressed father figure can be one of the best therapies for the mother, the baby, and other children in the family.

HEALING MILD DEPRESSION

As a new mother, you need to attend to your own physical, emotional and spiritual health and well-being. For physical health eat a balanced diet, exercise, and get enough sleep, try to develop more self-understanding to improve emotional health, and to promote spiritual well-being it is important to recognise that your life’s borders and directions have changed.

Share your emotions

Speak to a trusted person for support. True friends help us get life’s difficulties into perspective, and it’s unhealthy to be socially isolated. Loving human relationships can affirm your identity as a person, and help you be positive and find the deeper meaning of life by being a parent. Many studies have shown that the prevalence of postnatal depression is lower among mothers who have a supportive social network.

Music for postpartum depression

Many women with non-psychotic postnatal distress are reluctant to take medication. In this situation music can be used to create a healing environment that promotes mental and physical health. Comfort through sound can help you provide a loving and nurturing environment for your baby.

Music can be more accessible than words, and provide a way of improving communication between family members and resolving deep emotions. At the same time, it relaxes and promotes well-being reducing postnatal anxiety and stress. Listening to music opens up deeper levels, helps to tap into creative sources, helps to release and then safely re-integrate unconscious material.

What value does music hold for the baby?

Music has been shown to improve bonding, reduce crying, assist with respiratory difficulties, promote feeding, sucking, weight gain and sleeping, and relieve pain. Simple, consistent rhythms and melodies are best to help the baby self-regulate and adjust to the environment. A study of babies of depressed mothers showed that they preferred an instrumental lullaby to the instrumental lullaby with the addition of a woman singing.5 Instrumental lullabies have a positive and calming effect, help babies sleep for longer, and influence the development of cognitive and physical milestones. On the other hand, singing to her baby helps the mother relax, promotes intimacy and can help release feelings. So why not try both?

We are biologically constructed to be able to listen and to repeat what we hear. Music for your baby is a heritage of great future value.

References

  1. Kennerly H., and Garth D. Maternity blues I: detection and measurement by questionnaire. British Journal of Psychiatry. 1989; 155: 356-62
  2. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/depression-pregnancy.html
  3. Nöcker-Ribaupierre M. Music Therapy for Premature and Newborn Infants. Barcelona Publishers.2004.
  4. Musters SM., et al. Management of postnatal depression. BMJ. 2008; 337: a736.
  5. Hernandez-Reif M., et al. Instrumental and vocal mu- sic effects on EEG and EKG in neonates of depressed and non-depressed mothers. Infant Behavior and Development. 2006; 29: 518-25
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Postpartum blues

| Family Health |
Dr Frances le Roux
About The Author
- BSC, MSC, PHD. She is a registered physiotherapist in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, South Africa. She has a special interest in music/medicine based on her research regarding music and pain, immune systems and spiritual well-being. She is a member of the International Music in Medicine Association and is on the International Editorial Board of Music and Medicine Interdisciplinary Journal. Her books Music is Healing and recently published Music and Babies are available from: adagio.frances@absamail.co.za