Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond are celebrities who are helping the sufferers of postpartum depression by reminding us that it can happen to anybody. Like all new Moms, they were told that they are supposed to “fall in love” with their newborns the moment they are placed in their arms. But for up to 15% of new mothers, a combination of biochemical changes and other stresses can result in real problems. Women with previous histories of depression, poor social support, or other life stresses have an even higher rate of difficulties. Feeling unloving about the baby, feeling sad, overwhelmed, and irritable; having trouble with sleep and appetite, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt, can occur in up to 80% of new Moms and are commonly referred to as the “Baby Blues”, but when the symptoms last for more than two weeks, it could be Postpartum Depression (PPD), and it’s time to get help. But new Moms are ashamed of these feelings, and often don’t ask for help. They are told to “get a grip”, to “appreciate your beautiful family”, or that “in my day, we didn’t have time to be depressed”. All these reactions make the PPD sufferer feel worse, and less likely to seek help. We now know that babies of untreated PPD sufferers have a much higher risk of developmental delays and other social, emotional and other health problems. Depressed Moms are not able to provide the strong attentive, responsive, emotional comfort and eye-to-eye contact that newborns need for their little brains to grow. Infants really only feel that they exist in the light of their mother’s eyes. If she is distracted by emotional pain, fatigue, and depression, the baby suffers. And as the saying goes, “If Mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy”. The whole family suffers from PPD. So, treating Mom for PPD helps Mom, the baby, and the whole family as well.
Living in Hawaii, as I do, or in other rural areas, can present unique challenges to new Moms. Many families are recent immigrants from far-away countries or the mainland, and are disconnected from extended family and friends who can help in difficult times. New Moms often feel stuck at home with a crying baby, and no energy to leave the house to get support and help. Other Moms are afraid of what people may think if they admit their feelings, based on highly publicized media reports of mothers hurting or killing their babies. A very rare but severe form of postpartum disorder, called Postpartum Psychosis, occurs in about 1-2 out of 1,000 Moms and can include feeling out of touch with reality, rapid mood swings, and obsessive thoughts of hurting the baby. This is a rare form of the disorder, and women with a history of Bipolar Disorder or other more serious psychiatric conditions are at higher risk of developing this disorder. Living on an island or other rural area also means that resources are limited, and it may be difficult to find treatment providers out there who are trained to recognize and address the problems faced by new Moms.
But help is out there, and it works!
For most women, a combination of counseling and short-term antidepressant medication makes all the difference. If you don’t want to try medications, ask your therapist about starting with counseling first, to see if that is enough – often, it is. Also make sure to ask about the importance of getting adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition….many studies show that these factors can help a lot! New Moms can ask their OB/GYN, Family physician, clergy, or friends for a referral to a psychotherapist who can help Moms suffering from PPD.
Let’s keep talking about PPD, so that we can have happier Moms, happier babies, and happier families!
Click this link for a great resource: Postpartum Support International has regular, free, confidential chats, tons of information, and resources for moms, their families, and professionals.