Postpartum Depression: A Guide for New Mothers
According to the CDC, about 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. While many women experience the “baby blues” in the first two weeks after having a baby (worry, sadness, and tiredness), these symptoms usually resolve on their own. Postpartum Depression is more intense and lasts much longer.
We spoke with Kara Hansen, Social Worker, (pictured left) and Melissa Liddle, APRN, (pictured right) about Postpartum Depression, the symptoms and treatment.
Both work in the Fetal Health Center and provide advanced care for patients with select high-risk pregnancies before, during and after delivery. Moms are seen one or two weeks post-delivery and are screened for Postpartum Depression.
What are the signs of Postpartum Depression?
Melissa: First, it’s important to know that Postpartum Depression doesn’t make someone a bad mother. Many women struggle with Postpartum Depression and they’re not alone. One of the best things we can do is educate moms and partners on what Postpartum Depression looks like and who to contact if she is concerned she has symptoms.
Kara: We try to stress to mothers that Postpartum Depression is really the broader term of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. It doesn’t always look like that symbolic medication commercial we've seen, where someone is struggling to get out of bed or not connecting with people. Often times, it can manifest into irritability and anger or feeling overwhelmed, and that really surprises a lot of moms.
Other signs include anxiety, difficulty bonding with the child, frequent tearful moments, sleep disruption, changes in appetite and feelings of guilt. At the end of the day, if you don't feel like yourself you need to speak with an Obstetrician or other healthcare professional that could be helpful in this situation.
How long does Postpartum Depression last?
Melissa: While depression is most common after delivery, it can happen at any point during pregnancy and last up to a year post-delivery, which is why seeing a healthcare provider routinely is important.
As many as 40 percent of women who give birth don’t schedule a postpartum visit with their provider. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should have contact (either in person, or over the phone, etc.) with their care provider within three weeks of childbirth. This touchpoint allows providers to assess the risk for Postpartum Depression. In addition to the three week checkup, a comprehensive visit should take place within 12 weeks of delivery.
Kara: A mother is also at higher risk if she has a preexisting condition of depression or underlying anxiety. The weeks following childbirth are critical and it’s important for doctors to assess the mother’s physical recovery from birth, mood and emotional wellbeing and infant care.
What should moms do if they think they have Postpartum Depression?
Melissa: Reach out and ask for help. Talk to a healthcare provider, whether it’s the delivery provider, a primary care provider, or mental health professional. They can also speak with a counselor, their partner or other family members. If something feels “off”: please, reach out.
Kara: I think there's a lot of shame associated with Postpartum Depression, especially as a new mom, because everyone is saying you should be excited - you have this new beautiful baby and everything is wonderful. When in reality, someone struggling with Postpartum Depression likely does not feel that way. Kansas City is very fortunate in that we have the Pregnancy and Postpartum Resource Center and I would encourage anyone in the region dealing with Postpartum Depression to call (913) 677-1300. They have trained volunteers available through a “warm line” and can offer support and guidance by phone.
How do you treat Postpartum Depression?
Kara: Medication is the most formal treatment for those who are clinically depressed. For those with moderate or mild depression, self-care strategies, routine and coping skills can help. For instance, maybe a mom is having trouble with sleep. Literature shows if we can address those sleep problems, in general, the mood usually improves. When moms are burning the candle at both ends it doesn’t serve them or the baby well. This is especially important for moms who have a child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to understand that it’s ok to go home and get some sleep. For busy new moms, a coping skills that we often frequently recommend is using a meditation app, which doesn’t take away time from their routine. They can plug in headphones and listen at any time. Some people also find it cathartic to write thoughts briefly in a journal.
Melissa: As Kara noted, sleep is critical to one’s well-being especially in the postpartum mother. If possible, overnight assistance is beneficial; overnight help can include providing assistance with newborn care. If mom is lactating and pumping, let them clean the pump and equipment so you can get back to bed. Adequate nutrition is key. Moms, especially those who are lactating, should pack snacks that provide protein and carbohydrates, and are ready to grab-and-go. Consume healthy snacks after breastfeeding or pumping. Given the benefits, moms are determined to provide human breastmilk; however, this can lead to maternal sleep deprivation and neglect regarding their own nutrition and hydration.
How can friends and family help new moms?
Melissa: The key is to let the mother focus on self-care, and limiting other life stressors for her. Do tangible things, such as offering to help with laundry, house work, feeding the baby when possible or taking care of siblings.
Kara: Every mom is different and has different needs. Maybe someone has mail they need picked up down the end of the street or a dog that needs walked. Friends and family will often ask how they can help, so we encourage moms to write out a list before birth, because it’s hard to reach out for help when struggling.
What is the biggest takeaway for moms?
Melissa: Every adult should be screened for depression once a year, using a validated screening tool, and all women should be screened during pregnancy and postpartum. Know the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders, what you can do, and how you can be empowered to reach out for help.
Kara: A healthy mom means a healthy baby. For most people, postpartum depression is treatable, especially if they get in front of it early. We really encourage moms to reach out when they first have symptoms and not let it worsen or build. It’s really about that continuation of care.
Recommended Meditation Apps:
Learn more about postpartum and recovery, and The Fetal Health Center at Children’s Mercy Hospital.