What new mothers or pregnant women should know about postpartum depression.
Pregnancy and the birth of a baby is a joyous occasion, celebrated by family and friends. But for 1 in every 10 women in the United States, the time directly after birth can be one of the more challenging times to maintain any sort of good mental health. While many women experience the “baby blues” in the first 2-3 weeks after birth, postpartum depression is different and is often not talked about enough. There is a stigma around postpartum depression that leads too many women to suffer in silence.
What is Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is generally defined as depression in the first 12 months after birth.
Many women experience the “baby blues” in the first 2-3 weeks after birth with mild symptoms like insomnia, fatigue, tearfulness, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and appetite changes. These usually resolve within 2-3 weeks postpartum.
Postpartum depression is diagnosed if these symptoms persist and/or intensify. Additional signs of postpartum depression are:
- Depressed mood most of the day
- Diminished interest or pleasure in most activities
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Agitation or extreme irritability
- Inability to concentrate
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
There is no one definitive cause for postpartum depression, but some women may be more likely to experience this condition. Women who have a previous history of depression or postpartum depression with previous pregnancies may have a higher risk. Family history may also have an impact. Studies have shown that if one or multiple family members have a history of depression, the mother may be predisposed to postpartum depression.
Care and Treatment
Women complete depression screenings multiple times throughout their pregnancy and postpartum care including during pregnancy, on discharge from the hospital, two weeks after visit, and six weeks after postpartum visit. These tools assist in the diagnosis as well are more intense questioning to help identify depression and provide recommendations for treatment.
For women who experience postpartum depression, care is essentially the same as care for depression. Talking with a therapist can help manage emotions, identify and deal with personal life and relationships. Antidepressant medications can also be prescribed. Women who have been on medication previously or experienced postpartum depression with previous pregnancies may request medication more often during the pregnancy or in the immediate postpartum period.
Impact on Newborn Babies
It’s important for mothers to be honest and open if they’re struggling with postpartum depression because there can be impacts on the newborn baby’s health. Postpartum depression can impact breastfeeding which is a very important bonding time for mother and baby. Breastfeeding time may be shortened, or the woman may choose not to breastfeed. There can be less bonding time, interaction, holding, physical touch, eye contact, smiles, and talking to the baby. These are all important behavioral needs for a newborn.
Postpartum depression has an impact on everyone around you. It is a treatable condition when recognized and with appropriate intervention. Here are a few tools:
- Plan for postpartum during the last trimester.
- Accept help for food preparation, running errands, doing laundry, and assisting with other children during the first 2-3 weeks postpartum.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. Lack of sleep is a real concern for developing depression.
- Do not schedule or overschedule yourself the first 2-3 weeks postpartum.
- Get mild exercise like walking.
- Eat protein, fruits, and vegetables.
- Drink ample water.
- Self-care and no guilt about self-care!
Postpartum depression lasts at least a year in 30-50% of women. This is comparable to general non-perinatal depression so early identification and treatment are extremely important in the postpartum period.
Postpartum depression occurs in 9-10% of women. You are not alone. Your providers want you to seek care and get help to enjoy being a new mom, to be healthy, and have a healthy bonding with your baby.
The providers at MercyOne, are here to help you live your best life. If you are struggling with postpartum depression, they have specialists available for you. Talk with your primary care provider or find a MercyOne provider to learn about the resources near you.
About the author: Diane Clevenger, ARNP, CNM, WHNP, is dual certified as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife practicing at MercyOne. Diane has been with MercyOne Des Moines Midwives since the beginning of the practice in 2015. Midwives provide gynecology care in addition to all prenatal, labor, and birth and postpartum care.
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This article is part of a series of sponsored articles by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center