HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Postpartum Depression

Posted on | January 5, 2009 | No Comments

A serious condition that shouldn’t be ignoredPostpartum depression is a serious condition that can have devastating consequences when it goes unrecognized or untreated. It affects one in eight women who give birth, yet it is just now getting the attention it deserves.

One woman described it this way, “I thought I would be overjoyed when my daughter was born. But instead, I felt completely overwhelmed. This baby was a stranger to me. I didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t feel at all joyful. I attributed feelings of doom to simple fatigue and figured that they would eventually go away. But they didn’t; in fact they got worse.”

Depression following birth forms a continuum of conditions ranging from mild to life threatening. The least serious has been termed the “baby blues” and affects approximately 70 percent of all new mothers. Symptoms include crying, sadness, irritability, anxiety, and irregular sleeping and eating patterns, peaking three to five days after delivery and disappearing, generally, within two weeks.

While the baby blues clear fairly rapidly, postpartum depression lingers on or worsens. Immediate evaluation is required if a woman experiences five of the following symptoms: depressed mood, marked disinterest in activities, appetite disturbance, sleep disturbance, physical agitation, extreme fatigue, a sense of worthlessness, decreased concentration, or suicidal thoughts. Treatment with psychotherapy and/or anti-depressive medications is very effective.

With such obvious pain, discomfort and symptoms that affect more than 500,000 U.S. women each year, it’s reasonable to ask how postpartum depression has remained so well hidden. One answer is that, for all practical purposes, women are not screened for it or properly made aware of it. They don’t know that if they’ve had depression before, there’s a 30 percent chance they’ll suffer from postpartum depression. And if they’ve had postpartum depression with one child, there’s a 50 percent chance they’ll have it with the next.

Beyond this, the first, and often only, follow-up visit with the obstetrician is at six weeks – somewhat late for this condition. The 10-question, 5-minute Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale that is 95 percent effective in picking up on postpartum depression is infrequently used to screen new moms.

Postpartum depression can happen to anyone. If your caregiver hasn’t alerted you to the possibility of depression, and it happens to you, you might quite naturally try to brush it aside. You might assume your feelings are temporary, part of the normal adjustment period. You might try to live up to the “good mother” label. What should you do? Talk about it, get help, and you will get better. For caregivers: screen early and often, and involve family members. For family: take action, get help, listen and support.

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