It can happen to any woman.
But don’t be scared. Be honest and prepared.
It’s time to talk about postpartum depression and break through the stigmas and misconceptions that keep many women suffering in silence.
As did Grammy award-winning artist Cardi-B recently for the first time. She accounted that her postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter “came out of nowhere,” which is a common symptom. She learned first-hand that postpartum depression does not discriminate.
“It affects about one out of every 9 or 10 women who give birth, and most without any warning or risk factor,” says Amanda Healy, MD, OB/GYN at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.
She adds, “The good news is that nearly all women can overcome postpartum depression quickly with a personalized treatment plan that considers their unique needs, comforts and preferences.”
Dr. Healy explains more about postpartum depression and offers hope and healing for any women who may experience this condition.
Breaking the Silence
When moments of greatest joy are met with conflicting feelings of sadness or anxiety, it can be a challenging and even confusing time for new mothers. Admission that you’re feeling “sad” is hard for many women, for fear of both intrinsic and public shame. But this is far from the reality.
“One of the biggest stigmas about postpartum depression is the feeling that postpartum depression somehow relates to how much you love or care about your baby. You can still be excited about being a new mom and feel love for your baby, yet also feel sadness; that’s normal and it’s okay,” says Dr. Healy.
She explains that women tend to downplay their symptoms of sadness because they want to be happy, making it difficult to admit and seek help.
Another common myth about postpartum depression is that all women need medication to treat it.
“While medication can be one effective treatment in postpartum depression, some women with less severe symptoms may benefit from some simple lifestyle coaching, conversations with their trusted OB/GYN or even therapy with a licensed mental health professional,” Dr. Healy explains.
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression
For some women, it might be challenging to determine if they are experiencing some tearful “baby blues” or if it’s something more that they should be concerned about.
“The biggest thing that I tell patients is if their symptoms or feelings of sadness or anxiety are affecting their ability to care for themselves or their baby, it’s time to ask for help,” says Dr. Healy.
Whereas the common emotional roller coaster post-delivery can bring tears after a heart-warming commercial or at the first baby milestone, postpartum depression and/or anxiety can bring more serious symptoms, including:
- Feelings of isolation
- Extreme worry and anxiety
- Feelings of sadness that aren’t going away
- Unreasonable or racing thoughts
- Lack of motivation to care for self and baby
“In extreme cases of postpartum depression, which are very rare, some women have thoughts of self-harm or harming their baby, and in these cases, it’s important to seek immediate help from a medical professional,” advises Dr. Healy.
Onset of Postpartum Depression
According to Dr. Healy, postpartum depression can happen up to 12 months after delivery, but 90 percent of women experience it within the first four months postpartum with the majority feeling the onset in the first four weeks.
She recommends, “Since most women with postpartum depression will experience symptoms by the time of their six-week postpartum check-up with their OB/GYN, it’s important to feel comfortable discussing symptoms with your doctor.”
Postpartum depression occurs for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common causes are extreme changes in hormone levels in a woman’s body after delivery, as well as lifestyle changes that are inherent to new parenthood such as sleep deprivation and stressors brought by increased caregiver demands.
Dr. Healy shares, “Causes of postpartum depression are multifactorial and may be different for every woman. There is a big hormone swing after delivery with estrogen and progesterone reducing a lot. This can be a factor that causes mood changes. A woman also is undergoing many physical changes after birth, so not feeling well physically through the healing process can contribute as well.”
Interestingly, she adds that just like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) rates of postpartum depression tend to increase during the seasons with less daylight.
Risks for Postpartum Depression
“Postpartum depression can truly happen to any woman, but there are some factors that can increase one’s risk,” Dr. Healy says.
One of those is having struggled with depression at any time in life, or during pregnancy, which is called peripartum depression.
“Feeding struggles in the early weeks of motherhood and babies who have treatment in the NICU can also increase a woman’s risk due to the stress of having a baby with health concerns and experiencing separation from baby as well,” she adds.
Another important distinction that Dr. Healy makes is that some women experience postpartum anxiety without depression. “Some women don’t necessarily feel sad, but have difficulty turning off worrisome thoughts, which often affects sleeping, eating and general well-being,” says Dr. Healy. In these cases, she urges women to still seek help.
Treatments for Postpartum Depression
Treatment for postpartum depression requires a personalized approach.
“Treatment depends on the person, comfort level with medicine vs. therapy and severity of symptoms,” explains Dr. Healy.
“Some women just need some more support or a reminder to take better care of themselves; other times it’s help with modifying their lifestyle to refocus on their wellness and recruiting help from their support system at home to do so. Other women prefer therapy as an effective treatment, while some are comfortable with medicine,” she adds.
She also has an important message to women who are experiencing mood changes while pregnant: “Be open with your provider. Even if you don’t feel like you need medicine or treatment, you might be more prone to postpartum depression or need treatment while pregnant and there are safe and effective medicines that you can take while pregnant and breastfeeding.”
Dr. Healy’s Message to You: Ask for Help
“All obstetric care providers and midwives are familiar with screening for and treating postpartum depression, so don’t hesitate to talk to the provider that you’ve been seeing throughout your pregnancy to open up the conversation and ask for help.”
Dr. Healy concludes, “Know that we are here to talk about it and figure out the best way to help you – it might be as simple as helping you with your lifestyle to balance your self-care, not just medicine. It’s common for new moms to lose sight of what’s important for their own health needs and keep themselves on the priority list, and we can help with that. We can help you find ways to prioritize some restorative time for you, and that can go a long way to improve complete well-being. We can also connect you to local support groups with other mothers who understand what you are going through.”
To get help with postpartum depression or comprehensive OB/GYN care, click here.
Postpartum Emotional Support
Having a child is one of the most exciting and overwhelming events you may ever experience. Motherhood is challenging, especially as you learn how to fit into your new role as "Mom" and balance the needs of your family. AdventHealth Shawnee Mission offers the area's only hospital-based Postpartum Emotional Support Program, including a support group for new moms. Participants are welcome to join the group at any time and do not need to register beforehand. For more information, call Call913-632-4223.
Every Thursday, 5:30-6:30 pm
Community Education Room on the AdventHealth Shawnee Mission campus.