Women's Health

Postpartum Depression: It’s Common

Terri Hoopes MD, an obstetrician at Samaritan Obstetrics and Gynecology, reminds new moms that it’s normal to experience depressive feelings after giving birth.

“New baby alters the world,” she explains. “Everybody’s a little unbalanced. It’s all about getting balance back and figuring out where kiddo is going to fit in the mix.”

Types of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is moderate to severe depression that a mother experiences after giving birth, attributed to a complex mixture of physical, emotional and behavioral changes. While it can impact women after all pregnancies, it's most common after baby number one.

It often falls into one of three categories – depending on the severity and duration of symptoms – that include: baby blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.

Baby Blues
Often times, the baby blues reveals itself three to six days after childbirth and includes symptoms like anxiety, irritation, fearfulness and restlessness. This condition probably affects everybody to some extent and usually goes away on its own, Dr. Hoopes says.

Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a more serious condition that usually occurs around two weeks after childbirth, and affects about 15 percent of new moms.

“What I tend to call postpartum depression is [when women] don’t get themselves out of that [the baby blues]. It lasts longer ... Baby’s schedule gets better. They start to sleep a little more. The baby part of this starts to really improve and the depression lingers,” Dr. Hoopes explains. Symptoms may include:

  • Avoidance
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Feeling withdrawn or unconnected
  • Lack of pleasure or interest in most or all activities
  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of energy
  • Problems doing tasks at home or work
  • Significant anxiety
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Trouble sleeping

Postpartum Psychosis
This type of postpartum depression affects a relatively small population of women (1 or 2 percent of new moms), and can develop within the first three months of the postpartum period. “It occurs, almost always, in people with an underlying psychological issue,” Dr. Hoopes points out.

Managing Postpartum Depression

Tip #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If a mom is still experiencing depressive symptoms a few weeks after giving birth, Dr. Hoopes tries to determine if it’s more support issues than full-blown postpartum depression. “What tends to happen is, every grandparent has been unearthed, under every rock, for the first two weeks ... then they disappear. Well, baby is not in a normal pattern for six or eight weeks, so folks are usually, by three or four weeks, just exhausted.”

She recommends that the mom tries to get, at least, a few hours of help every few days so she can get uninterrupted sleep or take some time to relax.

Tip #2: Schedule Time for Yourself

Similarly, Dr. Hoopes emphasizes the importance of finding balance and re-implementing some of the routine activities a woman regularly participated in before giving birth. This can mean setting aside time to exercise, read the newspaper or take a long bath.

Often times, new moms will have trouble parting with their baby and they are afraid to leave their baby in someone else’s care. “A lot of it is just letting some of that go,” she says.

Tip #3: Talk to Your Doctor

When it comes to treating postpartum depression, the hardest part is often recognizing that you may need medical help. “This kid comes out and it’s hard work ... They’re expecting this to be the happiest time ever,” Dr. Hoopes explains. “There’s a lot of guilt associated with that, so a lot of people don’t address it.”

On the other hand, women who do recognize symptoms and seek help typically benefit the most from medications, “because they have recognized early on that they’re significantly altered.” From there, she may prescribe a patient to go on an anti-depressive medication for a few months. Medicines may include: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Lexapro, Zoloft or Prozac.

Tip #4: Cut Yourself Some Slack

Many women are so focused on following their usual agenda, that they end up creating unnecessary stress for themselves when things don’t go as planned. Dr. Hoopes reminds both moms and dads that they need to be flexible. “Babies don’t let you be in control of anything, ever again ... Relax. It will settle out.”

Your Partner’s Perspective: How They Can Help

The best thing any partner can do is be understanding, she says. “Be patient and try to give as much help as you can.”  

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