Support for Postpartum Depression is First Step to Recovery

Tired Stressed Mother Holding Baby, for article on postpartum depression

Postpartum depression appears with varying symptoms and in varying degrees for new mothers. Recognizing the signs and having a support system are critical to recovery and mental health.

Dr. Karla Kerby, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Postpartum Clinic of Tulsa, says that postpartum depression is more common for women who have suffered with mental health issues before pregnancy.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

According to the National Institutes of Health, around one in seven women develop depression after their pregnancies, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms and to seek help.

Kerby says symptoms for postpartum depression are similar to the symptoms of general depression: amotivation, no interest, crying for long periods of time, lack of self-care, lack of energy, a desire to sleep, snapping at one’s partner and isolation.

Difficulty bonding with her baby is another symptom of postpartum depression.

“It is very common for a mother to say, ‘I feel no connection to [my] baby,’” Kerby says. “Depression is the root.”

In addition, she says, a mother may not feel empathy toward her baby. “She will take care of her baby but have no emotional connection.”

Postpartum depression doesn’t always happen right after birth. Kerby says it can come on within a year after the baby is born.

Women need to know how to distinguish between depression and the more prevalent “baby blues,” Kerby says.

“Most – 60-80% of mothers – [experience baby blues] because the body is changing hormonally,” Kerby says. “If it lasts more than three weeks, it’s probably postpartum depression.”

Kerby strongly recommends immediately reporting any of these symptoms to a physician.

“If it’s been a month and [a mother] is still having symptoms, mention it to your primary care physician. Don’t wait,” she says.

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a metric that mothers can get from their obstetrician and gynecologist to help guide them on when to look for help and what resources are available to help them.

Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum Psychosis

In addition to depression, some mothers may experience postpartum anxiety, which presents with symptoms similar to general anxiety.

Some thoughts a woman with postpartum depression might have, Kerby says, include a series of “What if?” scenarios. Her thoughts may be racing, and she may be overcome with worry.

“What if baby doesn’t sleep,” Kerby says. “Or, what if I don’t have the right diapers? She may worry about minor things.”

Rarer is postpartum psychosis. “Usually, a family member or friend picks up on it,” Kerby says. “There is no test. It can come on so quicky. It’s similar to a bipolar episode.”

In these situations, Kerby says, it’s important for a mother with these symptoms to get to the emergency room immediately. “Don’t leave them alone,” she says. “They don’t get better.”

She says it’s possible for a mother to become psychotic postpartum from untreated depression.

Kerby says symptoms of postpartum psychosis are typically fear-based. For example, the mother may feel that it’s not safe in the house. She may ask family members or friends to take the baby and leave for fear that she will harm the child. She may also insist that she doesn’t need sleep. Family members can support the mother and guide her to find help.

“It’s important to have support and have families,” Kerby says. “Whoever has been with them through the pregnancy.”

Treatment Options

While there is an intravenous medication available, and a newly FDA-approved pill to treat postpartum depression, Kerby says most patients can be treated with talk therapy. She says that with treatment, mothers are able to bond better with their babies and the depression will lift, but she stressed the need for immediate attention and family support.

“You can’t go six weeks with something like that,” Kerby says. “I will stay late or weekends [to treat mothers] because it’s a horrible thing.”

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Categories: Babies & Toddlers, mental health