What is Postpartum Depression?
It is very common for new moms to experience stress and a short-term bout of “the blues” after having a baby. However, Postpartum Depression is a mood disorder that causes emotional and physical changes that are more severe and last for a longer period of time. Typically, it involves a prolonged sad mood, inability to focus and to find pleasure in things. Moms with Postpartum Depression often have feelings of worthlessness and unhealthy changes in sleeping and eating. They may cry frequently, have no appetite, or be unable to sleep even when exhausted. Postpartum Depression can occur anytime in the first year after birth. Unlike the exhaustion and anxiety that accompanies nearly all births, Postpartum Depression doesn’t usually go away on its own.
What causes Postpartum Depression?
The postpartum period is a perfect storm of emotional and physical changes, fluctuating hormones, stress, and sleep deprivation that all contribute to Postpartum Depression. This can also be exacerbated by a lack of support after birth. There is often a genetic link to Postpartum Depression, and women who have previously experienced bouts of depression or anxiety are more at risk.
What are the symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
Look for anxiety that goes beyond what would be normal after having a baby. Women may be overly worried about the baby’s health or their ability to take care of their baby. On the other hand, they may be uninterested in the infant’s activities or unable to bond with baby. They can be overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Watch out for excessive crying, appetite changes, mood swings, reduced concentration, withdrawing from family and friends, and failure to enjoy the things the new mother used to enjoy.
OB/GYN’s can screen for Postpartum Depression by utilizing a questionnaire in the office. If a woman scores 12 or higher out of a possible 30 points, she is probably suffering from Postpartum Depression.
Can it be prevented?
Having a baby is a stressful and difficult time even in the best of circumstances. While Postpartum Depression may not be preventable for some, there are things you can do to help set yourself up for success. The best way to help is to build a support system before you have a baby. Oftentimes people ask if they can help you out, so take advantage of that. Having family members and friends pitch in to help you after you welcome your baby will ease some pressure and help you cope. Try to sleep whenever you can and do small things to take care of your own well-being.
Another tip I recommend is to watch for symptoms right away, especially for women who have had depression in the past, as Postpartum Depression can be more easily helped the earlier it is addressed. All new moms should come to their OB/GYN for a follow-up around six weeks after giving birth, but if Postpartum Depression is suspected, come in earlier.
How is Postpartum Depression treated?
Both mood-elevating medications and therapy are recommended to help combat the effects of Postpartum Depression. Using a dual approach of medication and therapy often works better than either treatment does alone. You don’t have to be on medication forever afterward, but the boost these proven drugs can provide may be able to effectively help a Postpartum Depression sufferer, and talking to someone about your problems always has the potential to help.
What do you want women to know?
Postpartum Depression is common. It’s not something to feel guilty or embarrassed about. Think about it this way: if you had diabetes, you would have no trouble seeking treatment for it, and you should think about Postpartum Depression in the same way.
There are very effective treatments available. If you don’t treat Postpartum Depression, it can lead to longer-lasting emotional issues for the mother and developmental issues for the baby. Mother-baby bonding can also be affected, so please, if you feel like you may be experiencing Postpartum Depression, ask for help.
If you need an OB/GYN, Dr. Malentacchi is taking new patients at our MedStar Waldorf location. You can call her office at 301-645-8867, or you can use our Find-A-Doc feature at MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/FindADoc.
Please visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/Maternity for more information on pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum care.