Posted by: jedwardswright | March 10, 2011

Postpartum Depression: More Than the “Baby Blues” Part 1

Naturally, we look forward to the birth of our children with great anticipation. Besides the desire to put the stresses of pregnancy behind us, there is the precious nursery that has been lovingly prepared, darling tiny outfits hanging in the closet, and the images of domestic contentment — fostered by ads for diapers and baby foods — to encourage our dreams. Beginning or adding to our families is an exciting prospect.

What we may not realize is that the great majority of new moms will experience some form of what is commonly called “the baby blues,” which involves mood swings, crying jags, anxiety and irritability for a period of a few days to a few weeks after giving birth. The baby blues pass over this relatively short period of time without any need for intervention or serious concern.

Unfortunately, the term “baby blues” may sometimes be used dismissively by people to indicate that this condition is no big deal. While it is true that this is a common experience, it is still upsetting for the new mother and her family while it lasts. Even more troubling is that the phrase “It’s only the baby blues” may be applied to a mom who is suffering from a more serious condition called postpartum depression, or PPD.

Postpartum depression (also called postnatal depression) is considered a form of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a serious condition that causes severe feelings of hopelessness, inability to feel happiness, and anger. PPD may even cause frightening involuntary thoughts that her infant is at risk, or that the mother herself could harm her own baby. She may feel unable to care for her child, and have difficulty bonding with her baby. Physical symptoms can include insomnia, overwhelming fatigue, disinterest in sex, and a lack of appetite or a desire to overeat. Postpartum depression is often said to last up to a year, but I have read anecdotal reports of PPD continuing for up to two years.

PPD is mainly caused by rapid hormonal reduction following birth. It is a physical condition, not a sign of personal inadequacy or instability. Risk factors for postpartum depression include a history of Major Depressive Disorder, PPD after a previous birth, recent or current stressful life experiences, relationship problems, financial concerns, and an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

Treatment usually includes antidepressant medication. Even nursing mothers can take certain antidepressants, so don’t let that concern keep you from seeking medical treatment. Counseling may be helpful in providing coping strategies for the sufferer and/or the family, or as a safe place to discuss difficult symptoms and emotions. Estrogen replacement therapy has been sometimes used to stabilize rapidly dropping hormone levels. Ask your doctor to discuss the pros and cons of these potential treatments with you.

Women who have had PPD can be more prone to developing Major Depressive Disorder in the future, but most moms who have had postpartum depression will return to health and feel like themselves again with short-term treatment and a few months’ time.

Resources Consulted

MayoClinic.com

WebMD.com

Other Resources

Womenshealth.gov

The Journal of the American Medical Association

American Psychiatric Association

Postpartum Support International   

800-944-4773 (for referrals to resources in your area)

The Postpartum Dads Project

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Responses

  1. Anyone experiencing post-partum depression needs to have their thyroid levels checked. The symptoms you mentioned for post-partum depression are exactly the same as the ones for hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone). Even psychiatrists are now giving patients T3 hormone when their thyroids are perfectly normal because it has been shown to remove depression. Can any anti-depressant claim that same success?

  2. Pat,
    In my opinion it is a good idea for anyone with depression to have their thyroid levels checked. For women with PPD I would think it would be less likely to be thyroid though, because all the other hormonal stuff going on is more likely to be the culprit.
    As you know, there is some question in Canada whether the established level for diagnosing hypothyroidism is low enough, so we need to keep that in mind if the doctor says that it is okay but borderline.
    Actually, there are antidepressants with very high levels of success, and that is why they continue to be prescribed.
    Hopefully more research will come out to support the use of T3 in treating depression and it will become more widely used. Since the pharmaceutical companies have a stake in this, and they fund a lot of the research that is done, I don’t know how likely that is though. We shall see.
    Jodi

  3. PPD is so scarey and holds such a stigma, that thankfully is lessening — I hope. I ‘suffered’ with it after each delivery and miscarriage, and unfortunately it carried on past my last delivery into a major depression for 2 + years. Oh, Jodi, how I wish I’d found you then! It brings me to tears knowing you were out here and I never thought to seek help out here on the internet. How do we, as survivors, as thrivers, of this encourage those to find us??

  4. Kim,
    Some of the more obvious ways include providing a link on your blog to blogs and websites you have found to be helpful personally, sharing the blog or site on Twitter, Facebook, Digg or other social networking sites, including the blog or site on your blogroll, and even possibly reblogging (though I would get permission from the author first). Sometimes a blogger will agree to guest blog for you.
    It is also acceptable to quote short passages from books or articles that you have admired as long as you credit the author.
    Use tag words that are precise and likely to be searched by new moms, such as “birth” or “baby,” as well as terms like PPD to reach a bigger audience, which reminds me that I should add “birth” to the key words here.
    Jodi

  5. I’m taking notes on this, Jodi. Thank you so much. Also, I’m subscribed to get updates from you, but it doesn’t come through. Just thought I’d let you know. 🙂

    • Kim, have you double-checked the subscribe button the top of my page? I once found that a blog I had subscribed to was no longer marked as subscribed for some reason.


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