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For many women, the delivery of a baby is a happy time at the end of months of anticipation. For some, however, it can bring feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety.

Normal "baby blues"

Having a newborn can be very stressful, and babies often come hand-in-hand with sleep deprivation, changes in appetite and fatigue. These are normal experiences in the postpartum period, which is why the support of other people is essential in caring for the postpartum mother. In addition, many women feel down at times during the postpartum period, and this can also be a normal response to the hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy and birth. Sometimes called “baby blues,” these feelings of sadness are generally very mild and resolve within a few weeks after birth.

Symptoms of something more serious

However, there are times when sadness becomes overwhelming or lasts for longer periods of time, which should prompt an evaluation for postpartum depression. Other symptoms may include: lack of interest in your baby, not looking forward to things you used to enjoy, blaming yourself unnecessarily, being overly anxious or worried, trouble sleeping, feeling hopeless or miserable most of the time, uncontrollable crying and thoughts of harming yourself or the baby. Women who experience these symptoms should be evaluated for postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is defined as depression that occurs within the first year of having a baby, although most women develop symptoms within the first few months after delivery. It is a common issue, with approximately 1 in 10 women developing symptoms of postpartum depression.

Risk factors for postpartum depression include the following: previous history of depression, stressful life events during pregnancy or after delivery, and poor social support. However, it’s important to remember that many women with these risk factors do not develop postpartum depression, and other women develop postpartum depression without any of these risk factors.

The importance of seeking help

Studies have shown that women whose depression is uncontrolled are more likely to have impaired bonding with their babies and partners, more trouble with breastfeeding and even difficulty in getting children to the doctor for routine checkups. Rarely, severe depression can manifest in thoughts of harming self or others, including the baby.

Doctors know that postpartum depression is both common and treatable. We know that it affects people of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds; many of us who care for pregnant women screen for depression in everyone. If you think you might be suffering from postpartum depression, please tell your doctor. Some women feel guilty for having these feelings at a time when society expects them to be happy, but postpartum depression is not a moral failing, and there is non-judgmental help available.

The Periscope Project

In our area, health care providers are fortunate to have access to a new resource to help us care for pregnant and postpartum patients struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. Through the generous support of United Health Foundation, the Medical College of WI recently launched The Periscope Project, a service that gives health care providers real-time access to a perinatal psychiatrist for guidance in managing patient care. This access to specialists who are experts in perinatal mental health allows us to diagnosis and treat conditions more quickly.

As a health care provider, I am encouraged by these types of innovative services to help us improve care for women. Women should ask their health care provider to visit www.the-periscope-project.org to learn more about The Periscope Project services.

Treatment of postpartum depression may include medications (including medications that are safe in breastfeeding or pregnancy), sessions with a therapist, exercise, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage and peer support.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. In a time when you are caring for a new life, trying to heal physically and getting sleep when you can, make sure that your mental health is cared for as well.

Rachel Eash Scott is an OBGYN at Sixteenth Street Community Health Center.

 

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