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What You Need to Know About Postpartum Depression

Woman with postpartum depression

The American Psychological Association reports that up to 1 in 7 mothers experience postpartum depression. The prevalence of postpartum depression among mothers who have experienced it previously is even higher — estimated to be about 41 percent. Do these figures sound staggering? They are. Yet, an accurate count of women with postpartum depression may actually be much higher, because women who are reluctant to talk about their symptoms go undiagnosed.

Postpartum depression is sometimes confused with other conditions

Mothers who have “dark” thoughts when they are having a let-down might think they are having postpartum depression, but it’s more likely that they are experiencing a dysphoric let-down, which is an entirely different condition.

Mothers who experience some tearfulness in the first week or so have “baby blues.” But “baby blues” are punctuated by moments of laughter as well as tears. Furthermore, baby blues resolve by the end of the week or so.

Postpartum depression signs symptoms and diagnosis

Unlike the quick passing of “baby blues”, postpartum depression symptoms can last up to a year. Symptoms include trouble bonding, lack of interest in daily tasks, avoiding friends and family, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. These symptoms warrant professional help. Above all, if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your child, get help from emergency services immediately.

Diagnosis and treatment may miss the mark. Sources such as WebMD report what many of us already know. Mothers realize they feel depressed and that something is wrong. But when they report it at their 6-week check-up, doctors often tell them that it’s the “baby blues” due to “hormones” and that it will go away. For many women, that doesn’t happen. They struggle with depression unaided, and treatment is delayed.

Breastfeeding, depression and erroneous advice

Women often get erroneous advice about breastfeeding — including the advice to stop breastfeeding if they feel depressed. However, there is no evidence that breastfeeding causes or contributes to postpartum depression. (To the contrary, at least one study suggests that breastfeeding may help protect against postpartum depression.)  Breastfeeding mothers are not at greater risk than formula-feeding mothers. This makes sense; breastfeeding is normal!

Worse still, women with depression who are told to wean often stop “cold turkey”. Abrupt weaning very much disrupts the normal hormones, and the mother may end up feeling worse than she did before she weaned.

Opening up about postpartum depression

Thankfully, some women do talk openly about their experience. Celebrities such as Serena Williams and Chrissy Teigen have all opened up about their struggles with postpartum depression.

Singer and talk-show host Marie Osmond went public about her struggle with postpartum depression. Visiting Oprah and Larry King Live, she helped thousands of women realize they are not alone. Her book, Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression, demonstrates to all mothers that it’s possible to get help, get better, and move on.

Similarly, actress Brooke Shields shares her experience (including suicidal thoughts) in the media and through her book Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression.

In her book, Yes Please, Amy Poehler writes candidly about her experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her first child. She writes about how one doctor recommended she put on a “pretty dress” and see a Broadway show to resolve it. (As if!)

Resources available

Are you a mother with sad feelings? Or maybe you have a loved who has experienced postpartum depression? Or, perhaps you are a professional who wants to help mothers talk about their situation and empower them to continue breastfeeding. In any of those situations, you’ll want to hear my discussion with author and expert Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett about the myths and facts about postpartum depression, from recognizing the problem to seeking help and overcoming it.

The Postpartum Health Alliance has resources available for those experiencing postpartum depression, including a warmline with trained volunteers and information about local support groups. Postpartum Support International also has a helpline and resources. In emergency situations, call emergency services or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer.”

— Dorothy Rowe 

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