For 1 in 8 women, new motherhood is anything but joyous – Health.com
Postpartum depression is a very real and very serious problem for many mothers. It can happen to a first time mom or a veteran mother. It can occur a few days… or a few months after childbirth – Richard J. Codey
Recently on the news I saw that Drew Barrymore admitted that she suffered from postpartum depression after she had her second daughter. It was a short-lived experience. It lasted about six months. She was grateful for the experience because it was a constant reminder to stay present in the moment. Her motto was, “one thing at a time.”
I have heard quite a bit about postpartum depression but this time I wanted to educate myself about it and my heart was touched by the experiences women go through. First of all, I want to point out that it’s a real and serious condition. I was appalled at how women with postpartum depression were treated. Stigma, disbelief and lack of support from others prevent them from getting the treatment they desperately need. So, they suffer in silence. How terrible it is for a woman who has images of her child drowning in the bathtub or being smothered on his burp cloth, fearing for her sanity but is afraid to say anything so she keeps it from her husband for as long as she could. And how sad it is that a woman should feel judged for taking antidepressants for postpartum depression because of the mistaken belief that depressed mothers are self-centered and weak.
Women who have postpartum depression feel a triple whammy of the stigma reserved for people with mental illnesses. Not only are they brought down by what many expect to be the happiest even in a woman’s life–the birth of a child–but also total honesty about their emotional state could invite scorn or even a visit from social services (Health.com).
“We’re suffering from an illness that cannot be seen. We don’t have a fever, swelling, vomiting, or diarrhea. No open wounds that will not heal–at least not the kind you can see with the naked eyes. So, many wonder if we’re really sick at all – Katherine Stone
Psychologist Shoshana Bennett, founder and director of Postpartum Assistance for Mothers endured two life-threatening postpartum depressions in the mid-1980s, at the time when help for women in her condition was hard to find. “I was quite suicidal. My doctor told me to go and get my nails done,” Bennett recalls. Can you imagine going to your doctor because you are feeling suicidal and being told to go and get your nails done? It didn’t help that she had an unsympathetic mother-in-law who, believe it or not, had been a postpartum nurse for years. The mother-in-law had given birth to five children and had not suffered from baby blues with any of them. When Bennett’s husband asked his mother what was wrong with his wife, her response was, “She’s spoiled. It’s not just about her anymore.”
Bennett’s husband was angry, confused and upset with her. Bennett hated herself and things got worse after her first child was born. She was 40 pounds overweight and very depressed. She went to her ob-gyn for help. When she told him, “If life’s gonna be like this, I don’t wanna be here.” His response? He laughed and said that all women go through this. So, there was Bennett, suffering from postpartum depression, with no support or help. It was her own experience that motivated her to become a licensed therapist, specializing in postpartum depression so that she could counsel women who are going through what she did.
Sometimes women are given medications with terrible side effects. Katherine Stone experienced this when the first psychiatrist she went to treated her with four or five medications. She had to find a practitioner who specialized in the treatment of postpartum mental disorders. She discovered the hard way that no all psychiatrists are experts in treating postpartum depression. “So many psychiatrists don’t understand the condition, don’t have the tools to treat this, and aren’t trained in varying ways in which women with this disorder need to be cared for,” she says.
It is recommended that you ask your ob-gyn, nurses and social workers if the hospital in which you delivered offers postpartum depression services or sponsors support groups for new moms. Ruta Nonacs, MD, Associate Director of the Center for Women’s Health at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, recommends, “Call Postpartum Support International (800-944-4773) to find a support group near you. I also recommend seeing your family doctor. They’re treating people with depression all the time and can also help with referral to a therapist.”
How can you tell that you have postpartum depression? There are three postpartum conditions – baby blues, depression and psychosis. Here are the symptoms outlined by Mayo Clinic:
Postpartum baby blues symptoms
Signs and symptoms of baby blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born — may include:
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
Postpartum depression symptoms
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin later — up to six months after birth.
Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.
With postpartum psychosis — a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery — the signs and symptoms are even more severe. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Sleep disturbances
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby
Postpartum psychosis may lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors and requires immediate treatment.
For more information such as when to see a doctor, what your options are or how you can help a friend or a loved one, click on this link.
Why do some women suffer from postpartum depression while others don’t? According to Marcie Ramirez, Middle Tennessee coordinator for Postpartum Support International, “People with a history of mental illness have a high risk, as do people on either end of the age spectrum–young mothers or older mothers. If you have a history of minor depression, panic attacks, or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), you are at a higher risk for postpartum depression. A mother who experiences a traumatic birth is more likely to develop postpartum depression, as are new mothers who have a history of sexual abuse. Bipolar disorder is a big indicator for postpartum psychosis, a very serious form of postpartum depression that affects about 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 new moms.”
Other predictors of postpartum depression are:
- marital difficulties
- stressful life events such as financial problems or loss of a job
- childcare stress
- inadequate social support
- having to are for a child with a difficult temperament
- low self-esteem
- unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
- being single
- lower socioeconomic status
- postpartum blues (Babycenter.com)
An article in the Daily Mail says that a woman’s risk of post-natal depression increases if she has a Caesarean section. According to researchers, women were 48 per cent more likely to experience depression if they had a planned procedure rather than an emergency one. Some women choose to have a Caesarean because they are afraid to give birth naturally, have had a previous childbirth trauma or want the convenience of a scheduled delivery.
Postpartum depression should be taken seriously. Women are so overcome with fear and anxiety that they are afraid to be in the same room with their babies. This affects them being able to bond with their babies which is vital to their development. Women need to talk about their feelings, no matter how painful they are. They need the support of their husbands and families. “A functioning, healthy mom is vital to the family unit, and getting mothers with postpartum depression professional help can ensure that they avoid years of needless depression,” says Ramirez.
Advice for mothers who are experiencing depression is, “do what’s best for yourself so you can do what’s best for your baby” (Health.com). Ann Dunnwold, PHD, a Dallas-based psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression, says, “The key is to have it on your own terms. Sometimes the mother-in-law will come over to be with the baby, but what the new mom needs is for her to do the laundry. To help, everyone needs to ask themselves what the mom really wants.”
There is hope for women suffering from postpartum depression. The key is finding a health professional who specializes in treating it and who won’t brush you off or make light of it. There are medications and treatments that can relieve or even reverse postpartum mood disorders. Don’t wait to get help. Don’t suffer in silence. Speak up.
If you know a woman who is going through postpartum depression or are married to one, please help out as much as you can. Make sure that she gets enough sleep and encourage her to speak with her healthcare provider. Encourage her to get some kind of support.
If you are suffering from postpartum depression, here is a list of postpartum depression support groups. Perhaps reading stories of mothers going through what you are going may help. You’re not alone. Help and hope are available for you.
Sources: http://celebritybabies.people.com/2015/10/21/drew-barrymore-postpartum-depression-people-cover/?xid=rss-topheadlines; Mayo Clinic; Baby Center; Postpartum Depression Progress; Health.com; Daily Mail; Brainy Quotes; Healthscope