postpartum Depression - Moms and postpartum depression; when baby arrives and mom's not happy

Moms and postpartum depression; when baby arrives and mom's not happy

By Joyce S. Taylor
Tab Correspondant

When Anne was pregnant with her first child, she was naturally excited and exuberant. Her family and friends shared her sense of anticipation. Her pregnancy was uneventful, and she gave birth to a robust baby girl.

Two days later, Anne and her baby left the hospital. Much to her astonishment, she burst into tears when her husband put the baby into the car. Riding home, Anne attributed her emotional outburst to her exhaustion from the delivery and to the weight of responsibility now thrust upon her.

At home, Anne found that she did not experience the same interest and enthusiasm that her husband, family and friends displayed for the new baby. She felt psychologically detached, yet she was envious of her husband who found great joy cooing and playing with their daughter.

Although overwhelmed with fatigue, Anne had difficulty sleeping and could barely eat. She continued to lapse into spells of weeping and became easily irritated. Anne began to think that there was something very wrong with her. After all, she thought, new mothers are not supposed to feel this way.

Anne was suffering from a condition known as postpartum depression, a disorder that is fairly common, though not particularly well understood, and often goes undiagnosed. It is estimated that as many as 10 to 20 percent of women experience some form of significant depression after birth. The actual number may be even higher since many women do not seek help.

Many women, such as Anne, are too ashamed or guilty to reveal their feelings to anyone. Often, if they do confide in a friend or relative, they may be told that they are experiencing "the baby blues" which will soon pass.

The "baby blues" is a relatively mild form of sadness and anxiety that begins soon after childbirth and may last for several weeks. Generally, symptoms are not severe and may be intermittent. Within three or four weeks, the symptoms dissipate without any need for intervention.

In contrast, postpartum depression is more severe and prolonged, with symptoms that can be debilitating and often require medical treatment. These include feelings of intense sadness, crying, irritability, appetite loss, insomnia, lack of concentration, a sense of helplessness and, in severe cases, even suicidal thoughts. Some women may experience excessive worry or panic attacks. Others may engage in overly compulsive behaviors.

perhaps one of the most distressing aspects of postpartum depression is the feeling on the part of the mother that she is not connecting with her new baby. As Anne said, "I wanted someone else to take care of her. I felt tired and overwhelmed by the responsibility. I wanted to go back to just my husband and me."

postpartum depression may affect any mother, even one who has not experienced depression after the birth of a previous child. Scientists think that postpartum depression is triggered by several factors. One is a change in hormone levels.

During pregnancy, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone rise to levels that are dramatically higher than at any other time in a woman's life. These levels plummet precipitously after the baby is delivered. These changes can have significant effects on mood.

Another factor is the increase in stress that occurs with the arrival of a new baby. Many new mothers no longer have an extended family network such as mothers, aunts or sisters to help cope with the profound demands placed on them. Moreover, many women feel distressed for having negative feelings at a time when they are expected to be joyful.

For all that, postpartum depression is a highly treatable disorder. A woman who is experiencing any of these symptoms should consult with her physician and ask to be evaluated for a possible depression. As with any depression, it is important to obtain treatment as soon as possible, or symptoms may linger or even worsen. Treatment usually includes psychotherapy and may involve medication.

In Anne's case, once her postpartum depression was diagnosed, she began medication and therapy. This approach was highly successful and within several weeks, Anne had begun to recover and was taking great delight in caring for her new baby.

Joyce S. Taylor is a licensed psychologist in practice in Concord and Winchester and affiliated with Emerson Hospital in Concord.

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