Postpartum depression common among American women

As a family physician, I’ve had the privilege to deliver over 1500 babies in my career.

Attending a birth and seeing the miracle of birth is one of the most wonderful aspects of being a family physician.

Yet, even with my over 25 years of experience, I was surprised by a study showing that as many as one in five women in the U.S. may suffes from postpartum depressive symptoms.

Those at greatest risk share at least one of these five risk factors:

  • tobacco use late in pregnancy,
  • physical abuse before or during pregnancy,
  • partner-related stress during pregnancy,
  • trauma during pregnancy, and
  • financial stress.

The findings were published in the April 11 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and was based upon a huge survey of more than 52,000 new moms who had given birth within the past two to six months.

The authors of this report urged “healthcare providers [to] screen women for the condition through the first year after they’ve had a baby.”

But, I think there’s a message here for all of us who attend churches, live in neighborhoods, or are involved in social circles that have women who are pregnant.

Each of us have the wonderful opportunity of “coming alongside” these women to both (1) offer our support and prayers and (2) be on the lookout for symptoms of postpartum depression – and, should we see this, help the new mom see a pastoral professional, mental health counselor, or their personal physician.

After having a baby, most women experience mood swings. One minute they feel happy, the next minute they start to cry. They may feel a little depressed, have a hard time concentrating, lose their appetite or find that they can’t sleep well even when the baby is asleep. These symptoms usually start about 3 to 4 days after delivery and may last several days.

We call this the “Baby Blues” and it is both common and transient. This is a normal part of early motherhood and usually go away within 10 days after delivery.

However, as this study tells us, one in five women have more severe symptoms or symptoms that last longer than a few days. This is called postpartum depression.

What are the signs of postpartum depression?

According to familydoctor.org the symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Feeling sad or down often
  • Frequent crying or tearfulness
  • Feeling restless, irritable or anxious
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life
  • Loss of appetite
  • Less energy and motivation to do things
  • Difficulty sleeping, including trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or sleeping more than usual
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless or guilty
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Feeling like life isn’t worth living
  • Showing little interest in your baby

If you, or someone you love, has these symptoms, then help them make an appointment. There is help available.

In addition, if you have given birth recently and are feeling sad, blue, anxious, irritable, tired, or have any of the other symptoms of postpartum depression, remember that many other women have had the same experience.

You’re not “losing your mind” or “going crazy” and you shouldn’t feel that you just have to suffer. According to FamilyDoctor.org here are some things you can do that other mothers with postpartum depression have found helpful (with my comments added):

  • Find someone to talk to and tell that person about your feelings. (A pastoral professional or mental health counselor can be particularly helpful. Or, you might find talking to a good girlfriend who has had children to be useful.)
  • Get in touch with people who can help you with child care, household chores and errands. This social support network will help you find time for yourself so you can rest. (If you’re part of a church, synagogue, or other faith community, or a small group fellowship, call upon them to help.)
  • Find time to do something for yourself, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day. Try reading, exercising (walking is great for your health and is easy to do), taking a bath, or meditating. (Prayer time can also be helpful).
  • Keep a diary. Every day, write down your emotions and feelings. This is a way to let out your thoughts and frustrations. Once you begin to feel better, you can go back and reread your diary. This will help you see how much better you are. (I often prescribe journaling for my patients wrestling with emotional or relational issues.)
  • Even if you can only get one thing done on any given day, remember that this is a step in the right direction. There may be days when you can’t get anything done, but try not to get angry with yourself when this happens.
  • It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Childbirth brings many changes and parenting is challenging. When you’re not feeling like yourself, these changes can seem like too much to cope with.
  • You’re not expected to be a “supermom.” Be honest about how much you can do, and ask other people to help you when you need it.
  • Find a support group in your area or contact one of the organizations listed below. They can put you in touch with people near you who have experience with postpartum depression.
  • Talk with your doctor about how you feel. He or she may offer counseling and/or medicines that can help.

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