Postpartum Depression: The Silent Epidemic
First published in A Child Grows In Brooklyn
Did you know that one in seven mothers experience postpartum depression, but that most suffer in silence, never seeking help or support? Despite the number of celebrities such as Brooke Shields, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Bryce Dallas Howard who have spoken publicly about their bouts with PPD, many women still think it’s shameful to feel down after the birth of a child. Not so.
PPD should not be confused with the “baby blues.” While a woman may experience a short period of tearfulness, irritability, and frustration soon after giving birth, the baby blues do not interfere with a mom’s ability to care for her baby or herself. PPD, on the other hand, can be severe. Women suffering from PPD typically report feeling hopeless, angry, worthless, guilty, and/or anxious starting around 4-6 weeks postpartum. Some women may experience panic attacks or become obsessive about such things as germs or the baby’s health. The condition can become so intense that it interferes with a woman’s desire and ability to bond with her baby. A good rule of thumb is if a mom is not feeling herself by the time of her six week postpartum check-up, then it’s time to get help.
Because of mom’s central role in the life of her child and family, PPD can have unfortunate consequences. Not only is mom’s ability to function at home and work compromised, babies with depressed mothers have been shown to have diminished cognitive development and are more prone to forming an insecure attachment to their mothers. As they get older, the children of depressed mothers may have language delays, behavior problems, and social impairments.
No one knows for sure what causes PPD, but there are some environmental and genetic predictors for postpartum depression, including a poor support system, marital conflict, a personal or family history of depression, a colicky or difficult baby, financial difficulties, closely spaced births and a traumatic birth experience.
While PPD is common and debilitating, the good news is that it is very treatable, particularly when caught in its early stages. If you think you or a loved one may have PPD, the first thing to do is to rule out physical causes by getting a thorough medical check-up. Thyroid dysfunction and anemia can sometimes mimic the symptoms of PPD. Next, get help. Therapy, combined with medication if necessary, has been proven extremely effective in treating PPD. Look for practitioners who specialize in treating PPD and who understand the unique needs of new moms.
In addition, rally all the support you can. Ask your friends, family, or neighbors for assistance. Make things easier on yourself by hiring help, if possible. A doula, for example, can offer support, comfort, and a hand around the house. Avoid isolation by seeking out PPD-related support groups and blogs. And lastly, take time to care for yourself: go outside, do some gentle exercise, and rest. By accepting your condition and seeking the proper help, you will be able to be the mom you want to be, sooner rather than later.
Links to information:
The Postpartum Stress Center (postpartumstress.com),
Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net),
Postpartum Resource Center of New York (postpartumny.org)
Postpartum Progress, A Survivor’s Blog (postpartumprogress.com)
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