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Postpartum Depression: You're Not Alone

27 January 2017

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Every year, as many as one in five new mothers may suffer from postpartum depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means an estimated 600,000 women in the United States will suffer from PPD just this year.

The number only accounts for live births, so the number of women who suffer from postpartum depression may be much higher, as women can suffer from PPD after a miscarriage or a stillbirth. If your loved one is experiencing postpartum depression, it is important to recognize the symptoms of the condition and understand what to do when it is present.

What is postpartum depression?

PPD is different from the commonly known “baby blues,” which may begin in the first few days after a child is born as hormones stabilize. Baby blues can affect many new moms, but there is resolution of the symptoms — often uncontrollable crying or feelings of guilt — within two weeks.

“Most women with PPD report onset of symptoms within the first few months following delivery,” says Catherine (Amber) Patterson, D.O., who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. “However, onset may occur anytime during the first 12 months after delivery.”

Dr. Patterson says some of the common symptoms of PPD often mimic those of other types of depression in non-pregnant women, including:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest
  • Change in appetite/weight (increased or decreased)
  • Changes in sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in memory
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Excessive guilt
  • Possibly suicidal thoughts

“Women may report variable symptoms,” Dr. Patterson says. “For example, one woman may report sleeping 15 hours a day and excessive appetite with weight gain, while another complains of inability to sleep with no appetite and weight loss.”

If a mother is experiencing effects even more severe than these — like intrusive thoughts, delusions or disinterest in one’s child — she may be experiencing a more severe type of postpartum depression called postpartum psychosis. No matter the severity, it is important to consult a doctor immediately when any of the above symptoms are present. Together with a physician, a mother can begin to seek the treatment options that are best for both her and her child’s well-being.

What are the treatment options for PPD?

Once PPD has been diagnosed, your doctor will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for you to consider.  “Treatment options for postpartum depression are similar to treatment options for depression unrelated to pregnancy: psychotherapy and/or antidepressant medication,” Dr. Patterson says. “Some antidepressant medications may pass into breast milk; however, the amount is usually negligible. Premature or sick infants may be more sensitive to antidepressant medications in breastmilk.

Check with your physician if you are breastfeeding while on antidepressant medication.” Used in conjunction with other recommendations from your doctor, support groups are also an excellent source of emotional support for women during this time. Postpartum Support International hosts a support group in Tulsa and hosts groups in Oklahoma City for women seeking help during this time.

How to support your loved one with PPD

Poor social support and stressful life events are associated with PPD, Dr. Patterson says. PPD may also promote hostility between the patient and her family. For this reason, adequate social support is beneficial to all new moms, especially those with PPD. “Assistance with caring for the infant and other children may reduce stress in the postpartum period,” she says. “Maternal sleep deprivation may worsen symptoms.”

It is important to remain supportive and patient as your partner finds help to treat her PPD. Dr. Patterson says providing assistance with the infant while allowing the mom to have several hours of uninterrupted sleep can be very beneficial. Try to provide reassurance and emotional support throughout treatment. Additionally, new parents may benefit from couple’s therapy, as PPD can be associated with marital and relationship distress.

Postpartum depression is much more common than many women believe, and there is no shame in admitting you don’t feel like you’re “back to normal” after your pregnancy has ended.

Postpartum Support

While many women may experience some type of mild mood change or “the blues” at some point during or after the birth of a child, one in seven women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety.