Recognizing and Treating Postpartum Depression


Having a new baby can be such a wonderful time in a woman’s life, but it can also produce some unexpected emotional side effects. You think this should be a joyous time in your life, but instead, you may find yourself with overwhelming feelings of sadness and emotions that are interfering with your ability to take care of yourself or your baby.

There can be a feeling of embarrassment or shame in admitting you are struggling emotionally after having a baby, but you are not alone. More than 3 million women experience postpartum depression after having a baby. In the days and weeks following childbirth, instead of feeling joy and happiness, they experience feelings of extreme sadness. They may also experience irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. And they may also have difficulty bonding with the baby.

Postpartum depression is a very common disorder but should not go untreated. Having a brief experience of the “baby blues” for the first week or two after childbirth is very normal, but lingering and ongoing feelings of depression and sadness plus additional symptoms should be addressed with a healthcare provider as soon as they are discovered. If the symptoms go untreated, the condition can last months or even longer.

Treatment for postpartum depression can incorporate multiple approaches from talk therapy to treatment with antidepressants, and even hormone therapy. After childbirth, there is a dramatic drop in hormone levels in the body, including both estrogen and progesterone. This can contribute to everything from insomnia to feelings of exhaustion, sadness, and mood swings.

When these feelings negatively affect a new mother’s ability to properly care for herself and her new baby, it’s important to seek medical treatment.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:

• Feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed

• Frequent bouts of crying

• Anxiety and worrying

• Feeling moody, irritable

• Being unable to sleep or sleeping too much

• Physical symptoms from aches and pains to headaches and stomach problems

• Social withdrawal

• Inability to bond or form attachment with the baby

• Thoughts of self-harm

If you or someone you love is experiencing these symptoms, it’s very important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Getting started with treatment early can provide an improved outcome for the patient.

There are some new mothers that may be at a higher risk of post-partum than others. If you have any of the following, it’s important to know your risk factors to help you identify any issues early:

• Previous experience with depression or mental health issues

• Family members with depression or other mental illness

• Stressful life situations during pregnancy or after birth including job loss, the death of a loved one, domestic violence, etc.

• Medical complications during childbirth, or have a baby with health issues

• Mixed feelings about the pregnancy whether it was planned or unplanned

• Lack of emotional support from spouse, family, or friends

• History of drug or alcohol problems.

Family and friends may be the first ones that recognize and identify symptoms of postpartum depression. If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs, it is very important for them to speak with their healthcare provider who can direct them to the best course of treatment. The Washington Center for Women’s and Children’s Wellness can offer an evaluation and treatment in our offices in Bethesda. Call us today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced team members at 301-881-9464.

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