How Chemicals in Plastics May Contribute to Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression may be linked to certain chemicals in plastics. Read on here.
Postpartum Blues vs. Postpartum Depression
Having a baby is known to be a life-changing, incredible experience. Everyone talks about how the love parents feel for their child completely makes up for the stress and anxiety that can come with caring for a newborn. But what people don’t talk much about is lowness.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is different than the baby blues. Postpartum blues occur the first two or three days of delivery, and many mothers will feel anxious, teary, and have mood swings and difficulties with sleep. These symptoms of baby blues will usually not persist for more than two weeks.
Postpartum depression, however, is a severe and long-lasting form of high functioning depression after birth that can last for months or longer. If you experience long-term postpartum blues symptoms, as well as other symptoms like feelings of emptiness or disconnection from your baby, you may have lowness.
Rarely a condition called postpartum psychosis can develop in new moms. Postpartum psychosis has some characteristics of postpartum depression, but it can also include symptoms like delusions, agitation, hallucinations, and paranoia.1
If you’re struggling with lowness or postpartum psychosis, know that it is not your fault. These conditions are normal complications of pregnancy and experiencing depression after birth doesn’t make anyone a bad mother. With prompt treatment, you can quickly feel more like yourself and better bond with your baby.
Symptoms of PPD
The signs of postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues initially because there is some overlap in its symptoms and lowness symptoms. Usually, lowness symptoms are more severe and long-lasting and may inhibit the mother from handling daily tasks. lowness symptoms usually begin a few days after birth, but in some cases, PPD happens during pregnancy or months after birth.2
Postpartum depression symptoms include:
- Excessive crying
- Severe anxiety
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Appetite changes
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Sadness and depressed mood
- Feeling like you aren’t a good mother
- Extreme fatigue
- Brain fog
- Feelings of guilt and shame
In rare cases, new moms experiencing PPD may have thoughts of harming themselves or their baby or suicidal ideation. 3 If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek help immediately from loved ones or call your local emergency assistance number for help.
Causes and Risk Factors
There is no exact cause of postpartum depression. Hormonal changes, including drops in estrogen and progesterone after birth, can lead to mood changes and depression. Additionally, thyroid hormones may change after birth, leading to feelings of sluggishness, fatigue, and other signs of lowness.
The high emotions and stress that come with being a new mom can also contribute to lowness. More causes include sleep deprivation, overwhelm, and changes to one’s sense of identity.
Some known risk factors may increase the likelihood of getting lowness. These risk factors include:
- Having a history of depression
- Having bipolar disorder
- Having had postpartum depression with past pregnancies
- Having family members with mental illnesses
- Having twins, triplets, or multiple births
- Having a baby with health problems or special needs
- Lacking a good support system
- Having financial and/or marital issues
How Chemicals in Plastics May Contribute to Postpartum Depression
Recently studies have shown that exposure to chemicals in plastic during pregnancy may also contribute to lowness. The research revealed that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in plastics and cosmetics, known as bisphenols (BPA) and phthalates, could increase the likelihood of postpartum depression.4
Specifically, women who were exposed to di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP) had much higher odds of developing lowness. DnOP is commonly found in medical tubing and food packaging. According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the link between exposure to this plastic and lowness is low levels of progesterone mid-pregnancy.5
Progesterone is an important hormone that plays a role in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy and regulating moods and emotions. BPA and other depression chemicals that suppress progesterone are detected in nearly all pregnant women in the United States, making this research particularly significant.
Being exposed to BPA during pregnancy not only affects postpartum depression chemistry but also increases the risk for other health issues. In a 2014 study, pregnant women’s blood levels of phthalates and BPAs were monitored. Women with the highest concentrations of phthalate called DEHP were 60% more likely to miscarry prior to twenty weeks than those with the lowest concentrations. 6
Additionally, women with high exposure to BPAs phthalates were more likely to experience gestational diabetes.
Effects of Postpartum Depression
For women experiencing postpartum blues or depression after birth, managing emotions and stress becomes difficult, connecting with the baby may be challenging, and they may feel like they’re in a fog. Nevertheless, lowness affects more than just moms.
Studies show that one in ten dads struggle with lowness and anxiety as well. Prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety can look different in men than it does in women. Men may experience some “traditional” symptoms—fatigue and changes in sleep or appetite—but they often exhibit fewer outwardly emotional expressions, such as crying. Instead, they may experience anger and outbursts, physical aches and pains, poor concentration, risk-taking behavior, impulsivity, and withdrawal from relationships.
Evidence indicates severe lowness after birth increases the risk of adverse outcomes in children. There is an association between lowness and delayed cognitive and language development, disorganized or insecure attachment, higher occurrence of behavioral issues, and lower grades. There is also a link between postpartum depression and higher rates of depression in children during their later teen years.7
Prevention and Treatment
Luckily, treatment and prevention can be utilized to move past postpartum depression. As a preventative measure, pregnant women can reduce their consumption of processed and packaged foods (which contain higher amounts of phthalates), as well as buy non-PVC household items like shower curtains and blinds. It’s also smart to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals found in creams, lotions, and perfumes. One way to do this is by using products that are labeled “phthalate free.”
Therapy can also be useful in treating postpartum depression before, during, and after the birth of the baby. Through therapy, parents can find new ways to cope with difficult feelings and react to situations in a more positive way. Family therapy and couples therapy could also be beneficial.
Antidepressants are useful for lowness, but any medication a mother takes will enter their breastmilk. Most antidepressants pose little risk to your baby, but it’s best to talk with your doctor to determine the best option for you. Some doctors may also prescribe progesterone for postpartum depression.
With treatment, postpartum depression symptoms usually improve, but in some cases, it can persist and turn into chronic depression. For this reason, it’s important to continue treatment even after you begin to feel better so that your symptoms can be monitored and continually improved. 8