By Michelle Kerekes, L.P.C., L.C.A.D.C.
Postpartum Depression Common, Treatable
Babies are considered bundles of joy. Why then do so many new mothers experience feelings of sadness and anxiety after giving birth?
The answer is complicated, but one thing is clear – it is not because of something a mother does or does not do. What is also clear is that these feelings are common.
In fact, an estimated 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Help, however, is available.
The Women’s Program at Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health offers specialized services to address the special needs of women facing a range of mental health issues, including postpartum depression.
Baby Blues or Depression?
Most new moms experience mild feelings of unhappiness, worry and fatigue in the days immediately after giving birth. These feelings, commonly referred to as the Baby Blues, tend to resolve on their own within a week or two.
Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is characterized by extreme feelings of sadness and anxiety that interfere with a woman’s ability to take care of herself or her family.
Unlike the Baby Blues, symptoms of postpartum depression typically do not resolve on their own and require treatment. Symptoms can occur up to one year after having a baby, but most often start within one to three weeks after childbirth and may include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty or overwhelmed
- Crying more often than usual for no apparent reason
- Inability to sleep when the baby is sleeping
- Loss of interest in activities
- Appetite changes
- Withdrawing and isolating behavior
- Trouble finding emotional attachment
- Low libido
Recognizing the signs of postpartum depression can be difficult, especially because many of the symptoms, such as tiredness and feeling overwhelmed, are typical for most parents.
However, when a mother’s ability to function is so impaired that she cannot care for herself or her baby or she cannot be the mother she wants to be, it is time to seek help.
It is important to note that postpartum depression is different from postpartum psychosis, which is rare, occurring in 1 to 2 of every 1,000 childbirths.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis typically occur suddenly and include hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thoughts. Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment.
Rapid Drop in Hormone Levels
There is no single cause of postpartum depression, though it is likely triggered by a combination of factors including sleep deprivation, physical discomfort and hormones.
In the hours after childbirth, estrogen and progesterone levels drop rapidly. This sudden decrease in hormones leads to chemical changes in the brain that can cause depression.
Moreover, some women are at greater risk for postpartum depression than others. Risk factors include:
- Symptoms of depression during or after a previous pregnancy
- Personal or family history of depression or other mental illness
- Giving birth at a young age (younger than 25 years)
- Stressful life events during or after pregnancy, such as loss of a job or death of a loved one
- Lack of a strong emotional support system
- Intimate partner violence or sexual abuse
- Unwanted pregnancy
No Shame in Postpartum Depression
While the weeks and months after having a baby can be a happy period, for many women who suffer from postpartum depression it can also be a time filled with shame and guilt.
Too often women suffer in silence, afraid to share their feelings and risk being perceived as a bad mother.
Yet there is no shame in postpartum depression, and once women discuss and share their feelings, symptoms can be easily treated.
Without treatment, symptoms can last for months or years. As the National Institute of Mental Health indicates, in addition to affecting the mother’s health, postpartum depression can interfere with her ability to connect with and care for her baby and may cause the baby to have problems with sleeping, eating, and behavior as they grow.
The first line of treatment for postpartum depression is to discuss symptoms with your OB/GYN. Sometimes medication alone is enough to stabilize your mood and relieve symptoms.
In many cases, mental health counseling and talk therapy are also used in combination with medication to treat postpartum depression.
Practice Self Care
Though postpartum depression can’t be prevented, there are a few things women can do to take care of themselves during and after pregnancy so they can ultimately take care of their babies.
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly as your body allows
- Try to sleep when the baby is sleeping
- Take 10 minutes each day for yourself, go somewhere quiet where no one needs your attention
- See your doctor as scheduled and be honest about the feelings you are experiencing
- Ask for help
The Women’s Program at Princeton House offers specialized treatment to help women overcome postpartum depression and build skills to process emotions, thoughts and behaviors. The program teaches skills for mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. Treatment is available at Princeton House’s outpatient centers in Princeton, Hamilton, North Brunswick, Moorestown and Eatontown.
For more information about the Women’s Program at Princeton House visit www.princetonhouse.orgor call 888-437-1610.
Michelle Kerekes, L.P.C., L.C.A.D.C., is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor. She is a senior primary therapist with Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health.