Does Someone You Know Have Postpartum Depression?

What to do when anxiety and sadness linger
Does Someone You Know Have Postpartum Depression?

Having a baby is a time of joy and excitement for many women. But, for some, giving birth can prompt deep feelings of anxiety and sadness.

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When these feelings are long-lasting and interfere with daily life and relationships, they’re known as postpartum depression (PPD). Don’t ignore them.

“It’s common to experience constant worry that something is going to happen after the birth of a child, and these feelings are often irrational,” says OB/GYN Rebecca Starck, MD.

“Overwhelming guilt is also a common feeling, since most women recognize that something is not right, and they believe they should be feeling excited and happy. But, they can’t seem to get on top of their depression,” she says.

PPD also strikes women who experience a pregnancy loss or stillbirth.

Knowing how frequently PPD occurs and what it looks like can help alert friends and relatives or convince a woman suffering from this condition to get help.

How common is PPD?

A less severe form of PPD, often called postpartum blues or “baby blues,” affects up to 50 percent of women, but symptoms usually disappear after two weeks.

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Up to 15 percent of women develop PPD symptoms that persist beyond two weeks. Among mothers who have experienced PPD previously, the risk increases – up to 50 percent develop this type of depression again, Dr. Starck says.

Some women are more at risk

Although any woman can develop PPD, there are several factors that increase the risk level:

  • A drop in estrogenor progesterone levels
  • Previous experience with depression and anxiety (personal or family history)
  • Marital dysfunction
  • Acute stressors (e.g., the death of a loved one)
  • Exposure to toxins or pollution
  • Poor diet
  • Low social support
  • Difficult infant temperament
  • Expectations of motherhood don’t align with reality

Signs of PPD

Women suffering from PPD notice a wide variety of signs and symptoms:

They can feel sleepy, but often are unable to actually fall asleep when the opportunity arises. They also may have a lack of motivation and appetite. Commonly, they feel overwhelmed and/or inadequate. Chest pressure and heart palpitations are other symptoms. And they may have crying jags and become easily tearful.

Effects of postpartum depression

PPD can negatively affect more than the mother as an individual. It can also lead to:

  • Limited bondingbetween mother and child
  • A breakdown in relationships with significant others and family members
  • Weight loss
  • A drop in milk supply, for those who are breastfeeding
  • Increased fussiness in the newborn

Show of support is key

Many women who develop PPD find it difficult to talk about the problem or recognize what’s happening. In those cases, those around her can help, Dr. Starck says.

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“If you suspect a loved one is experiencing depression, it’s important to be supportive and acknowledge the challenges of having a newborn,” she says.

If someone you know shows signs of PPD, take these 5 steps:

  1. Encourage her to seek medical care
  2. Introduce her to someone who has also experienced and worked through PPD
  3. Minimize the time she spends alone (at least until symptoms improve or treatment takes effect)
  4. Help build her confidence
  5. Reduce her responsibilities

Know your treatment options

In most cases, counseling or medication are effective therapies, Dr. Starck says.

A primary care physician, OB/GYN, midwife or internist can refer women with PPD to a mental health professional for cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Among medications, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclics can help combat PPD symptoms. Discuss these medications with your doctor before taking them, especially if you are breastfeeding.

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