The Link Between Postpartum Depression And Addiction

Postpartum depression can cause many new mothers to self-medicate their symptoms with drugs or alcohol. When mothers lean on substances to cope with the daily stresses of parenthood, they not only increase their risk of addiction, but also risk damaging their baby’s health and well-being.

Motherhood is filled with unexpected challenges and stressors. While most new moms will experience some feelings of sadness or fear in the days after childbirth, the baby blues normally wear off after a few days. However, for around 20 percent of new mothers, the baby blues are a far more serious and long-lasting condition known as postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression can make moms feel unable to connect with their new child, causing anxiety for both. The demands of motherhood combined with societal expectations and untreated postpartum depression are increasingly leading new mothers to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, a mother’s simple solution to feelings of inadequacy can quickly slip into dependency and addiction.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is recognized as a subtype of major depression that can affect women who have given birth. It can begin anywhere between two weeks to a year after the birth of a child. This type of depression specifically affects new mothers.

The symptoms of this condition closely resemble the symptoms of major depression and are thought to be caused by existing depressive tendencies, new anxieties related to being a mother, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, nutritional deficiencies or lack of spousal support.

According to the Centers For Disease Control, around 20 percent of mothers will experience symptoms of postpartum depression after childbirth. These symptoms can make new mothers unable to cope with everyday life, and especially unable to take care of their child adequately.

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Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression

Most new moms experience the “baby blues” shortly after giving birth. This term refers to feelings of worry and tiredness that comes from taking care of a child. These feelings affect upwards of 80 percent of mothers and can be particularly stressful for first-time moms.

However, unlike symptoms of postpartum depression, the feelings associated with the baby blues are mild and typically go away on their own in a matter of weeks. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression experience much more severe symptoms that can last for up to a year after childbirth.

Some common symptoms of postpartum depression are:

  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Experiencing trouble bonding with the baby
  • Doubting ability to take care of the baby
  • Thoughts about harming oneself or the baby
  • Severe mood swings
  • Worrying constantly
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Crying more often than usual
  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless and overwhelmed

Signs of postpartum depression typically begin within the first four weeks after the birth of a child and can severely disrupt the relationship between mother and child.

In extremely rare cases, women can experience hallucinations and delusions associated with postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression And Addiction

Being a new mom is challenging. Babies require constant attention and care, causing stress, lack of sleep and anxiety for their mothers. While all of these reactions are normal, they can take an emotional toll on a woman.

Additionally, postpartum depression can make it difficult for a mom to really connect with her child, or take care of the baby properly. All of these pressures, combined with fulfilling the expectation of motherhood, often push women to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

“I celebrated the end of breastfeeding with a lot of wine, and then slowly, carefully, and sneakily, my drinking grew and grew like my children,” wrote author and mother of three, Heather King, who suffered from postpartum depression and addiction after giving birth. “Fast and slow all at once. By this time, I had two beautiful boys and I loved them deeply. I spent my days with them and continued to feel depressed and anxious. I didn’t talk about it, I just moved through the hours that felt like quicksand, and I drank too much every night to escape.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as many as 15 percent of women diagnosed with postpartum depression engage in binge drinking within a year of giving birth. Additionally, roughly nine percent of this group also admitted to abusing drugs along with alcohol. These rates are higher than women who did not give birth or who did give birth but were not diagnosed with postpartum depression.

As new moms increasingly rely on drugs and alcohol to cope with the stresses of parenthood, the more dependent their body and brain will become on these substances in order to function normally. Not only can this new habit cause friction between mother and baby, but it can also quickly turn into an addiction.

How Do Alcohol And Drug Use Affect A New Baby?

Mothers who drink heavily or use drugs while breastfeeding also put their children at risk. According to La Leche League, alcohol can pass from the mother to their child via breastmilk, causing babies to take less milk and stunt their growth.  Due to this, doctors recommend that mothers who breastfeed drink in moderation and wait two to three hours after the last drink to feed their baby again.

In a report produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that certain drugs can cause severe side effects for babies who breastfeed from mothers who are actively addicted.

Some side effects that babies can experience from their mother’s drug use are:

  • Amphetamines: Trouble sleeping and irritability
  • Cocaine: Seizure, irritability, diarrhea and vomiting
  • Heroin: Tremors, vomiting, restlessness and trouble feeding

Due to the severity of side effects that breastfeeding children can experience from their mother’s drug use, it is recommended that mothers struggling with addiction use formula instead of breastmilk.

Postpartum Depression, Alcoholism And Mom Wine Culture

Over the past few decades, popular parenting culture has touted alcohol as the easiest and best way to unwind after a full day of dealing with children. This is particularly true for mothers, who are often served messages via joking coffee mugs and teeshirts that the best cure for the demands of their children is a generous glass of chardonnay, pinot noir or cabernet.

“Wine has become normalized, expected and then reinforced by popular culture, social media, advertising,” says author Gabrielle Glaser of mom wine culture. She believes that social media is partly to blame for the increase in popularity of mom wine culture. As mothers scroll through their social feeds filled with seemingly perfect images of what motherhood should look and feel like, it can leave them feeling inadequate.

Instead of reaching out for help to treat the underlying cause of these feelings, such as postpartum depression, mommy wine culture is the alternative way that mothers are dealing with the pressures of parenthood – alone and without any social or medical support. Some researchers estimate that the untreated feelings of incompetency are partly to blame for the fact that over seven million children are currently living in homes where at least one parent has a drinking problem.

“The illusions we embrace around drinking include ideas like it’s ‘just wine.’ An addictions counselor refers to that mentality as minimizing its significance. It’s the same mindset that dictates wine is safer than ‘hard liquor’, when in truth it is the same drug in different forms,” explains Jim LaPierre LCSW, a substance abuse counselor based in Maine.

Additionally, when children grow up in homes where drinking is the norm, they are unable to see the dangers of drinking alcohol every day and multiple times a day. These misguided ideas can lead them down a dangerous path when and if they begin experimenting with alcohol.

As expectations of motherhood grow more demanding and mom wine culture becomes the norm, it’s important for parents to recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression. Knowing the signs of postpartum depression will increase the chances of women getting the medical intervention they need before turning to drugs and alcohol to cope. Not only will this provide the best quality of life for a mother and her child, it will prevent new moms from falling into a cycle of substance abuse and addiction.

 

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