New Moms in Africa Fight Postpartum Depression


Across
sub-Saharan Africa, new moms are at risk of
falling into depressive states that can potentially damage their own mental
health as well as the well-being of their new born child.

In many
parts of the continent, public health systems are ill-equipped to deal with
postpartum depression, which affects a significant number of women after giving
birth. The situation is made worse by the absence of psychiatrists or clinical
psychologists trained to help women cope with the condition.

According
to researchers, postpartum depression (also called post-natal depression) affects
as many as one in five women, particularly during the first year of motherhood.
Less than 2 in 1,000 women are also at risk of developing postpartum psychosis.

The
condition causes mothers to feel exhausted and emotionally empty and can
potentially destroy the bonding between a mother and her newborn baby.

"Women
seem to be particularly vulnerable to depression during their reproductive
years: rates of the disorder are highest in females between the ages of 25 and
45. New data indicate that the incidence of depression in females rises, albeit
modestly, after giving birth," reports the Scientific
America
journal.

According
to the journal, dramatic hormonal fluctuations that occur after delivery may
contribute to postpartum depression in susceptible women, but causes of the
disorder are not fully understood.

"A longer
term consequence of not diagnosing and treating postpartum depression is the
effects it can have on the family, including the parental relationship and the
development of the child. Children of depressed women have been found to have
attachment problems, higher rates of behavioural problems and lower vocabulary
skills," states a report titled Postpartum
Depression: A Literature Review
.

For some
new moms, the situation can be so severe it can lead to cases of infanticide
and suicide.

However,
among African women, few if any studies have been conducted to better
understand the condition, and the way that women cope in the absence of
appropriate public health services.

It is
possible to surmise from existing data from other parts of the world the
general experience of African women following childbirth.

A study
by the University
of Iowa
revealed that low-income women are much more likely to suffer from
postpartum depression than wealthier women.

The
research revealed that women who are poor already have a lot of stress, ranging
from poor living conditions to concerns about paying the bills. The birth
of an infant can represent additional financial and emotional stress, and
depression negatively impacts the woman’s ability to cope with these already
difficult circumstances, according to the study.

The study
which focused on a sample of 4,332 new mothers from four Iowa counties showed that compared to
white or Latino mothers, African-American mothers are more likely to experience
depression after having a baby.

Furthermore,
the study revealed that African-American women tend to have weaker support
networks, a major predictor of postpartum depression.

Like
African-American women, African women that give birth are also affected by low
incomes and live in stressful contexts which
increases the likelihood of the onset of depression.

While
there is clearly a need for more
research into the coping methods of African women, simple screening methods can
be utilized to identify women that are at risk of postnatal depression. Nurses
in public health settings need to be provided with training so that they are
able to detect and assist new mothers from post-partum depression. The use of a
simple tool, the Edinburgh
Postpartum Depression Scale
, translated into local language, can assist
nurses, family members and new moms to detect depressive symptoms.

If
anything, public educational and awareness raising programs or simple pamphlets
and posters describing the condition need to be displayed in ante-natal clinics
so that women are mentally prepared to deal with the problem.

As
research shows, social support networks can also play a key role in helping
women deal with postnatal depression.

Overall,
it is essential for national government throughout the world to guarantee that
new moms have access to clinical and maternal services that can help to avert
the emotional upheavals associated with giving birth.

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