What is postpartum depression, and how can women who experience it get help?

For some women, the days and weeks after giving birth involve more than just the “baby blues.”

And the expectation of baby bliss can lead new mothers to feel upset or guilty if they are irritable, sad, or anxious—classic signs of postpartum depression.

Luckily, postpartum depression is more widely recognized today than it was in the past, and women suffering from it have more ways than ever to get help.

Dr. Nicole Foubister, a psychiatrist based in New York City, said that reaching out is key to treating this condition.

“Women and their loved ones should not be ashamed to seek help,” she said. “It is especially important for the people surrounding the new mom to be on the lookout for symptoms of postpartum depression, as they are often more difficult to recognize in oneself.”

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Getting help for depression could benefit a woman and her family for generations to come. A new animal study by researchers at Tufts University shows that mothers who are stressed shortly after giving birth have female offspring who are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression when they become mothers.

The Cleveland Clinic defines three types of postpartum depression.

  • Postpartum Blues / Baby Blues. This occurs in 50 to 75 percent of new mothers within a few days to a week after giving birth. It usually passes within two weeks without treatment and may include feelings of sadness and anxiety; crying a lot is also common.
  • Postpartum Depression. These symptoms are similar to those of postpartum blues and include lack of energy, memory issues, sadness, anxiety, or feelings of guilt. This type of depression can last for up to a year and is commonly treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.
  • Postpartum Psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is rare and typically arises within a week or two after delivery. It includes hallucinations, disorientation, paranoia, or the desire to harm the baby. Doctors speculate that postpartum psychosis may have been to blame for an incident involving a woman who attempted to drive through barricades set up around the White House last month with her infant in the car.

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According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, Madison of 1,863 new mothers, women with mental health problems before pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to experience postpartum depression issues.

Those who had mental health issues during pregnancy were more than 11 times as likely to have mood disorders after the birth of the child. The researchers also found that more than 50 percent of women with poor postpartum mental health reported having some history of poor mental health.

Aside from reaching out to a friend or talking to your doctor, a new study explored the effect of home visits to new mothers and infants as a way to reduce emergency care costs. The visiting nurses screened new mothers for postpartum depression. The visits saved money and provided a resource for women who may not have otherwise sought the assistance.

Home visits, which are covered as a part of the new healthcare reform legislation, could be instrumental in reaching women who are not seeking help on their own.

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One of the risk factors for postpartum depression is having a poor support network, explained Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist and author of What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents’ Attention Without Hitting Your Sister.

The home screenings could be especially important for women who don’t have family or friends who can tell them in a caring way, ‘I’m worried about you. Let’s figure out how we can get you some help,’” said Kennedy-Moore, who operates a private practice in Princeton, N.J. “Intervening earlier to treat postpartum depression—rather than just leaving new mothers to tough it out on their own—can also be beneficial for the health of moms, babies, and other family members.”

Dr. Carly Stewart, the doctor at Money Crashers, agreed that home visits might be just the thing to help women with postpartum depression.

“This is especially important for these women because decreased initiative is part of the disease of depression,” she said.

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