Serena Williams had postpartum disorder. Here’s how to deal with it

Serena Williams recently opened up about her struggle with postpartum disorder. While the disorder is quite common among mothers, not many undergo proper treatment for the same.

By Disha Roy Choudhury

Serena Williams inspired many women by effectively balancing her responsibility as a mother and a sportsperson ever since she gave birth to a baby girl in September 2017. Things took a turn recently when the tennis player started doubting if she was fit enough to be a mother. “Last week was not easy for me…Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom,” Serena wrote on her social-media post.

What Serena was experiencing is known as postpartum disorder. “I read several articles that said postpartum emotions can last up to 3 years if not dealt with. I like communication best. Talking things through with my mom, my sisters, my friends let me know that my feelings are totally normal. It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough for my baby,” the tennis player added.

Serena is not the only woman to have gone through “postpartum emotions”. In 2016, pop sensation Adele also revealed how she suffered from postpartum depression, which made her feel she had made the “worst decision of her life” by giving birth to her son.

What is postpartum disorder?

While the term “postpartum” may seen unfamiliar, turns out the disorder is extremely common among women who deliver.

A lot of mothers experience mental disorders, primarily depression, during pregnancy or childbirth. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), such disorders affect more women in developing countries (15.6 per cent during pregnancy and 19.8 per cent after child birth) as compared to developed countries.

“Postpartum emotional disorders are very common,” psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria, one of the leading in the country, highlighted while speaking to Express Parenting. “Around 50 per cent of women, that is one out of two women who deliver, go through what is known as postpartum blues. In such cases, mothers, who are ideally expected to feel happy when the child is born, do not feel so.” Women going through postpartum blues tend to settle down with three to four weeks after childbirth, explained Dr Chhabria.

Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is experienced by one out of 10 women who deliver. A more severe case of postpartum disorder is known as postpartum psychosis, which affects one among 1000 women who deliver.


Women experiencing postpartum blues become very emotional. “They cry and may also have sleep disturbances. They do not feel any sense of connect with their child. On other occasions, they might feel extremely protective about the child,” said Dr Chhabria.

In case of postpartum depression, the symptoms tend to be more intense. “There is a general sadness and lack of energy to do anything. The mother does not feel like working. She may have sleep disturbances, get very irritable and aggressive. Taking care of her child might seem like a big burden to her,” informed Dr Chhabria, something that Adele, for instance, experienced after childbirth.

Victims of postpartum depression may experience “negative emotions, including suicidal thoughts,” added Dr Chhabria.

In fact, suicide has been deemed one of the major causes of death among pregnant and postpartum women, which was confirmed in a study conducted by Canadian researchers in 2017.

Again, women suffering from postpartum psychosis tend to get totally detached with reality and may start showing behavioural disturbances, said the doctor. “The mother tends to get paranoid; she may think that people are against her and the child. She may either get protective or might have aggressive outbursts towards the child. On extreme cases, she might get suicidal or homicidal.”

When is a mother most likely to suffer from postpartum disorder?

Women, who go through a lot of stress, are more likely to experience postpartum disorder. “Stress, complexities in childbirth, any previous history of depression, including herself and the family, can all aggravate the situation. At the same time, any woman can become a victim,” clarified Dr Chhabria.

How can postpartum depression be treated?

Maternal mental disorders, as WHO informs, can be treated. “The disorder does not come up suddenly after the baby is born. A mother shows signs of anxiety even during pregnancy. The disorder needs to be diagnosed effectively because they can be treated very easily,” emphasised Dr Chhabria.

“When gynecologists are conducting required tests, they should also rule out emotional disorders, by handing women questionnaires or offer counselling opportunities in their clinic. If the mother’s emotional health is neglected, she can neither look after herself nor the baby. This, in turn, can affect the entire family,” said Dr Chhabria.

According to WHO, when a mother suffering from depression is treated, it also leads to improved growth and development of the newborn, while reducing the chances of malnutrition and diarrhoea.

So, how can postpartum depression be treated? “Firstly, we need to figure out the cause of depression followed by a tailor-made treatment. A mild mood elevator may be given, along with counselling. Newer treatments have also come up like Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which is extremely safe and won’t hinder breastfeeding,” explained Dr Chhabria.

Lack of awareness

“Postpartum depression is rampant but not many people are coming for help. On several occasions, the disorder goes untreated since most women are clueless. People around the mother might also ignore the symptoms. There is lack of awareness about the disorder and people don’t even know that it can be treated. A women left untreated will never come back to her original level of functioning, and she might probably suffer from a mild, long-term form of depression (dysthymia) all her life,” warned Dr Chhabria.

“I would probably see one woman a week but there is a huge number waiting there who need to be treated,” she added.

Spreading awareness about postpartum depression is essential to ensure the well-being of both the mother and the child. The first step towards achieving the same is to rid society of the stigma surrounding depression.

At the same time, a woman need not be anxious about being an inadequate mother or as Serena writes, “Most of you moms deal with the same thing. Whether stay-at-home or working, finding that balance with kids is a true art. You are the true heroes. I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week–it’s ok–I am, too!!! There’s always tomorrow!”

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