Postpartum depression is not just “the baby blues,” a mild feeling of sadness after a baby is born that goes away on its own. If the “baby blues” don’t go away after 2 weeks, you could be experiencing postpartum depression, and should seek help. Postpartum depression is not a character flaw or sign of personal weakness, and it does not mean there is anything wrong with your ability to be a mother.
Steps to Wellness
The exact cause of postpartum depression is unknown, but certain chemical changes that take place in your body during and after pregnancy may contribute to it.
- Share your symptoms, medical history, and any medications or “natural” remedies you are using.
- If you are on medication, ask which medications are least likely to pass into breast milk.
- Find a therapist or counselor with whom you feel comfortable, who can help you cope with feelings you are having.
- Use a journal to express your thoughts and feelings, and record changes in your moods.
- Become part of a support group, where you will be able to share your thoughts and feelings in a caring environment with people who have “been there”.
- Eat balanced meals at regular times.
- Do light exercise, such as walking.
- Work with a therapist or counselor to develop stress reduction techniques.
- Give family and friends opportunities to help you, such as doing housework or watching older children.
How do I talk to my health care provider about postpartum depression?
It’s important to have a trusting relationship with your health care provider and feel confident in their skill, knowledge, and interest in helping you. You should never feel intimidated or as if you’re wasting their time. It’s also important to tell them about your medical history, all of your symptoms, and any medications or “natural” remedies you are using.
A skilled and interested health care provider should address all of your concerns, but you may have additional questions. Make a list of questions you want to review and ask for extra time when you schedule your appointment. During the appointment, discuss your most challenging issues first and take notes if things seem complicated. If you are having trouble communicating with your health care provider or if you feel that your needs are not being met, it is alright to seek out another health care provider who will be better able to help you.
What are my treatment options?
Some mothers decide with their health care providers that medication is the best choice for treating their postpartum depression. Some medications may pass into breast milk, but others are less likely to do so. Your health care provider should have the information to help you decide which medication is best for both you and your baby. If you have to stop breastfeeding, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good mother; it means you are taking care of yourself in order to be the best possible mother.
There are many different medications available to treat depression. If one medication causes side effects or does not relieve your depression, another may work well and have fewer side effects. Don’t give up. Never stop taking your medication or change your dosage without first discussing it with your health care provider. Check with your health care provider before using herbal, natural or over-the-counter remedies, because sometimes they can interfere with prescribed medication.
Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can also be an important part of treatment. Sometimes it can work alone; other times, symptoms of depression must be reduced through another method of treatment such as medication before psychotherapy can be effective. A good therapist can help you cope with the feelings you are having and modify patterns in your life that may contribute to your depression. Choose a therapist with whom you feel safe and whose judgment you trust.
How might postpartum depression affect my family?
Husbands, partners, and families can be affected by postpartum depression, too. It is equally important for men to seek treatment if they have symptoms that interfere with their day-to-day lives. Sometimes therapy involving both parents or the whole family can be helpful.
Other children may be affected too. It may be a good idea for one parent to spend some time with other children and talk to them about what is happening in a way they can understand. You can explain depression as “not feeling good” and explain that you are receiving treatment to help you feel better. It may be necessary to reassure children that your condition is not their fault. You might want to ask your health care provider or therapist to sit down with the whole family and talk about your depression, its treatment, how it affects them, and what they can do. If any of your children have symptoms of depression that interfere with their daily activities, school or friendships, talk to your pediatrician about it.
What can families do to help?
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need during this time. If family or friends ask how they can help, consider giving them small things to do, such as
- household chores or running errands,
- helping take care of the new baby or other children,
- spending quiet time with you,
- educating themselves about your diagnosis,
- talking to your children about your condition, and
- watching for symptoms of depression.
What is postpartum psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis is far less common than postpartum depression, and is characterized by delusions (thoughts that are not true or logical, such as believing you are receiving messages through the television) or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there). It is extremely important to get help immediately in cases of postpartum psychosis. Remember, it is a physical illness. Postpartum psychosis is not something you can control by yourself, but it is something you can treat with proper medical help. Avoiding treatment because you are ashamed or afraid may have tragic consequences.
What if I was already diagnosed and treated for depression or bipolar disorder before I became pregnant?
Because women with prior history of depression or bipolar disorder have an increased risk to develop postpartum depression (1 in 4 women), it is important to work with a support team to maintain wellness throughout the process. Work with health care providers, therapists, family, friends, support group members, and other new moms to create a wellness plan that feels healthy and supportive to you. In case of an emergency, create a list which includes support team members contact information, current list of medications and dosages, allergies, and childcare providers.
How do support groups help?
Support groups can help you follow wellness plans, provide a forum for mutual acceptance and self-discovery, help you rediscover strengths, humor and a sense of community, and give you the opportunity to benefit from the experiences of others who have “been there.” DBSA has support groups where people with depression or bipolar disorder share ideas, support, coping skills, and fellowship.
Where can I go for more information?
These organizations can provide support or additional information about postpartum depression and recovery. They are not affiliated with DBSA, and DBSA is not responsible for the content or accuracy of the material they provide.
Postpartum Support International, (631) 422-2255, http://www.postpartum.net