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He would plead with me to breastfeed the baby

Health & Science
 Patients with post-partum depression can experience diverse symptoms. Akoth's joy faded away on her third night. [File, Standard]

The mother of three was full of happiness as she cuddled her bundle of joy, after a successful delivery.

However, on her third night, her joy faded away and was replaced by unexplained fears and panic attacks. Had she lost her mind?

“I was a jovial mother and bonded with my baby but I suddenly began feeling irritable. I cried all the time, lacked appetite, and had negative feelings. I could not even comprehend where I was,” narrates Akoth.

As she struggled to understand herself, a nurse assured her she would be well. The condition, however, worsened and she was referred to a counsellor and then a psychologist. After several tests, she was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

“It was my first time to hear about the condition. Nobody had explained it to me, not even at antenatal clinics,” Akoth recalls.

The first five months of diagnosis were severe, despite having been put on treatment. At times, she did not want to breastfeed the baby.

“Negative thoughts kept running in and out of my mind. I feared more for the baby, and thought I was to be admitted to a psychiatric ward,” says Akoth.

She adds, “I was like a zombie in the house. My husband used to plead with me to breastfeed. I would do it but immediately hand the baby to a nanny.”

Gradually, with adherence to treatment, she recovered from the condition after about two years.

Another mother, Emmarvelien Ondaro, says she was in denial, despite presenting symptoms of post-partum depression.

Two months after the birth of her second-born daughter, she started withdrawing from people and developed suicidal thoughts. She even attempted to strangle the baby.

She says what saved the baby was her smile - whenever Ondaro thought of strangling the girl, she smiled back.

“I did not want her at all and, on several occasions, I thought of abandoning her in a public vehicle, or throwing her out of the window of my house,” recalls Ondaro, a nurse at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital in Nakuru. 

The mother of two has been on medication for about one and a half years.

The experience of the two women mirrors the pain a thousand of mothers are subjected to after delivery.

Studies reveal that at least 20 percent of women suffer from post-partum depression after delivery.

Dr Kireki Omanwa, an obstetrician and Gynaecologist based in Nairobi explains that post-partum depression reported after delivery can progress later on to cause mental problems.

Initially, the majority of mothers experience post-partum blues, but when such extends for more than six weeks, it is likely to develop into post-partum depression.

Symptoms presented include failure to breastfeed, oversleeping, and hallucinations.

If not well managed, the expert notes that the mothers are likely to hurt themselves, or the baby.

But the cause of post-partum depression remains unclear. “It is suspected that it is caused by changes in hormones that take place in the body during pregnancy, and after birth.

Some attribute the condition to a decrease in a hormone called progesterone, but we do not have something that directly links it to the condition,” says Dr Omanwa.

Dr Edith Kwobah a psychiatrist says that post-partum depression is common, but is hardly reported because of stigma.

“Post-partum depression is common, but unreported because people have assumptions like ‘women cry like babies after delivery’,” explains Dr Kwobah, also a member of the Kenya Mental Health Board.

Risk factors, according to Kwobah, include genetics, people who have had difficult pregnancies and childbirth, a poor support system like a teen who is giving birth and doesn’t know how to take care of the baby, or someone with unsupportive partners. Sickness during pregnancy or diseases like HIV/AIDS and diabetes also risk post-partum depression.

According to Okwobah, a strong support system in handling the disease is key. “If you see a mother who is unusually sad, and the sadness is persistent in childbirth, do not ignore, nor tell her to be strong.”

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