Perinatal Depression is common and treatable:
It’s common for women to experience “baby blues,” as a normal adjustment period after birth that usually last two to three weeks. According to The American Psychological Association, up to 1 in 7 women experience Postpartum Depressive Disorder (PDD). PDD can last for many weeks or months if left untreated, and can affect any woman regardless of age, income, culture, or education. Many women do not talk about or seek help for their PDD as there is a profound stigma in society, and there is a lot of shame and feelings of worthlessness associated with the disorder.
The causes of PDD are not fully understood, but many theories have been suggested that it can be triggered from a combination of rapid change in hormone levels, genetics, and social and environmental stressors. Screening for PDD can be done prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy, and postpartum, and the earlier you detect it, the better, as it’s important to receive treatment for your own and baby’s well-being.
You may experience some of these symptoms:
While every woman’s experience is different, some describe their PDD as feeling that they “want to cry all the time,” “like they are on an emotional roller coaster,” or are “worried that they will never feel like themselves again.” As a therapist, I’ve heard mothers questioning why they weren’t bonding with their baby, and whether their baby liked, or even loved them. These thoughts and feelings are troublesome, and if you are experiencing some of the below noted symptoms, it’s time to reach out for help:
· Feelings of sadness
· Mood swings: high and lows, feeling overwhelmed
· Difficulty concentrating
· Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
· Changes in sleeping and eating habits
· Panic attacks, nervousness, and anxiety
· Excessive worry about your baby
· Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
· Fearing that you can’t take care of your baby
· Feelings of guilt and inadequacy
· Irrational thinking; seeing or hearing things that are not there
The sooner you get treatment, the better:
PDD not only has an effect on your physical and emotional health, but your baby’s well-being and development may be affected as well. A secure attachment provides a baby with an optimal foundation for life, as it helps an infant’s brain to interact, communicate, and grow and develop in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, PDD can put the infant-parent attachment relationship at risk, so it’s important to seek treatment by a mental health professional early to increase the chances of a secure bonding.
PDD is treatable with a variety of effective interventions, including psychotherapy, social support, and medical treatment, often used in combination. I find dyadic therapy (mother and baby) one of the most effective treatment approaches as it addresses the needs of the mother, baby, and their relationship, reduces the mother’s symptoms, and increases her understanding of her baby’s internal experience. Mothers often report that this type of treatment modality is beneficial as it helps them to effectively respond to their babies needs, and helps them to restore to their previous level of functioning.
Dads are at risk too:
While it is not as widely known, men can experience postnatal reactions too that include depression and anxiety. Adapting to a new role as a parent can bring on a shift that includes mixed emotions, heightened stress, and when you add lack of sleep, men are at risk of poor mental health. Men are also heavily affected by the impact when the mother is suffering, as they have to pick up the pieces and learn how to best support her, and care for the family.
Due to lack of research and negative stigma in society, men are less likely than women to seek professional help for their postnatal depression. Some men feel like they need to “take it like a man,” or “just deal with it.” It’s important that they receive support as well since they are at risk of doing “quick fixes,” such as throwing themselves into their work, or using drugs and alcohol. There are many treatment options available, including individual and family therapy, that can provide dads with needed support, encouragement, and reassurance to help them through this transitional stage.
If you choose to breastfeed, you don’t have to necessarily forgo medication to help reduce symptoms:
Some women choose to breast feed since there are many health benefits to the baby and mother, and it can enhance the quality of the mother-baby interaction. It is common for women to wonder if it’s safe to breastfeed while taking medication to help them manage their symptoms of postpartum depression. Concerns over whether medication will be harmful to their babies, can get in the way of them making an imperative decision in their treatment options.
Studies show that many antidepressants and newer SSRI’s have minimal transfer into the breast milk. It’s important for mothers to speak with their medical professional to discuss medication options, as there are many things that need to be taken into consideration. You do have options, and you should take steps toward feeling better so you and your baby can enjoy your time together.
*Clinical data gathered from the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force