Imagine entering one of the most joyful times of your life - parenthood. A time filled with new beginnings, new dreams, and new dimensions to your relationships. Now imagine your complete confusion when instead of the loving, warm, satisfying feelings that you had anticipated, you feel lost, anxious or so sad that you barely function. Your warm dreams of bringing home baby to sweetly rock to sleep, lovingly feed, and dress adorably is not what happens.
According to Healthcentral.com, somewhere between 70-80% of new mothers feel some form of the Baby Blues. Baby Blues begin within a few days of delivery and symptoms can include frequent mood swings, feelings of sadness, difficulty concentrating, lack of appetite and difficulty sleeping. The symptoms of Baby Blues clear up within a week to ten days postpartum. This is not the case with postpartum depression. A study done by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that as many as 11-20% of new mothers report symptoms that go beyond the Baby Blues to become Postpartum Depression. Familydoctor.org lists the possible symptoms of postpartum depression as follows:
• Feeling sad or down
• Crying frequently
• Feeling restless, irritable, and/or anxious
• Loss of appetite
• Loss of interest in life and even in baby
• Sleep issues (too much or not enough)
• Feeling worthless and unable*
If you are experiencing these symptoms, there is something you can do. The first course of action is to seek help. Know that this not an uncommon experience and do not allow feelings of shame or guilt prevent you from asking for help. Many Obstetricians will talk to their patients at the 6 week postpartum check-up; however an earlier visit may be warranted. If you do not feel that you are getting the help you need with your first attempt, it is important to push the issue. Like many health issues, the patient must be their own best advocate. Treatment can be by medication, talk therapy or both.
In speaking to one woman named Alice*, who experienced postpartum depression after both of her deliveries, it is apparent that treating depression after delivery can be somewhat tricky. Many of the medications used to treat depression cannot be used while breast feeding, so options must be examined closely to best treat the mom and protect the child from medications in breast milk. In addition, when treating postpartum depression it may be difficult to ascertain if the symptoms are a natural part of the adjustment to motherhood, or if the symptoms go beyond the normal. Alice realized that things were not right very early, but was too afraid to admit she needed help until about 10 weeks post-delivery. She was blessed to have a very supportive husband who encouraged her to seek help. In fact, Alice felt that the most helpful things her husband was able to do for her at the time, was to accept and validate her feelings as confusing as they were, and to continually check in on her progress as they were seeking help together. She felt the least helpful response was to be told to just get over it and do what she had to do. It was fear of this type of response and anxiety over what others would think of her that kept her from going for help earlier. After Alice's second pregnancy, she was much more aware of the possibility of postpartum depression. The second time she was prepared to respond to and treat early as much of the depression as possible by taking preventive measures. She had discussed the issue with her doctor and had a plan ready to put into action as soon as she delivered.
Woman dealing with postpartum depression, often feel so much shame and guilt over their emotional response to what should be one of the happiest moments of their lives, they delay seeking help. Well intentioned friends and family brush off the mother's depression as the normal hormonal fluctuations, making her even less likely to seek help. Women who have lived with postpartum depression will tell you to get help as soon as possible. Learning coping skills, talking to someone who can validate your feelings, and possibly even the use of medication, can all benefit a new mom experiencing this very real and frightening illness. The sooner women with postpartum depression seek help, the sooner they can begin a road to recovery, reclaiming their lives for themselves and their new bundles of joy.
*If feelings or thoughts of harming oneself or the baby occur, the mother should immediately call 911 or go to the closest emergency room. This is known as postpartum psychosis, and although it is very rare it is treatable.
*Name changed for privacy.
• Postpartumva.org for contacts and lists of support groups in Virginia
• Cypress Counseling at www.cypresscounseling.com 757-553-2780
• Postpartum.net for Postpartum Support International Support for Virginia - 1-800-944-4PPD
• Virginia state co-coordinator Adrienne Griffin 703-243-2904
• Fredericksburg Postpartum Depression Support Group meets Thursday mornings. Contact Michelle Clemovich 703-300-1436